“I Have 1500 Friends and 150 Likes, So Why Do I Still Feel So Alone?”
The Internet Disconnect by Herb Tannenbaum, Ph.D.
Social Media continues to grow and become integrated into the daily lives of millions of people. Recent statistics indicate that 81% of young people 18-29 use social media as well as 72% of people ages 30-49, 60% of people ages 50-60 and 43% of people 60-70. Social media has been embedded into the fabric of everyday life for millions of people. It is fast, free, easily accessible and connects people from wherever they are around the world. It has immediacy, allowing people to share the events of their lives in real time.
And yet, this amazing, seemingly miraculous, technology of connection leads to inevitable, inescapable disconnection. Perhaps the trend that is most problematic is the tendency to practice “impression management.” Social media encourages users to present the ideal aspects of life. People choose to present life in an idyllic fashion. “We are having the best time ever!” And the pictures that are posted show life being lived at full throttle with friends, at restaurants or traveling around the world. The ideal self is presented.
What is “screened out” and denied are the more difficult facts of life—the struggles at work with a co-worker or boss, the frustrations of finding a place to live, a sick child unable to sleep at night or getting a car repaired. Few people choose to share and discuss these vicissitudes of life and it has almost become politically incorrect to share the daily struggles that are also a part and parcel of life and reflect an actual, more authentic existence.
Conventional wisdom suggests that stress results when there is disconnection between the ideal and the real. Sidney Jourad in The Transparent Self (1972) seems almost prescient when he writes that we hide the “real” self because:
- We want so much to be loved and accepted
- We think we must conceal what mars the more acceptable and lovable image
- Only our public selves will succeed in the economic or social marketplace
However, without disclosure about our real selves we can never know ourselves. Worse, we begin to deceive ourselves while we are unconsciously trying to impress, and in so doing, deceive others. Sigmund Freud commented over 100 years ago that when there is a large and ever-widening gap between the ideal self and the real self, there are psychological consequences to people’s well-being. Most often that consequence is depression. The fact is that we literally cannot keep up with one another’s ideal selves. We compare our real self to someone else’s ideal self and always fall short. We then work harder to present something more than “what is” becoming more unreal, more false and more inauthentic. Perhaps, the newscaster Brian Williams, was an unwitting participant in the social media trends described above.
For most us, keeping up with our “friends” becomes an energy problem. It takes significant energy to keep up the desired image and to filter out the more real, vulnerable and less than perfect aspects of life. This trend is unsustainable and perhaps we need to take a look at how to integrate authentic and vulnerable parts of ourselves into a real, cohesive self instead of continuing to cultivate the perfect self-image. There is a difference.
Perfect profiles and smiling pictures are just a mere snippet of what may be really happening for the person posting the picture or status update. Each of us rides the waves of life from magnificent moments of joy to vulnerable moments of disappointment, pain and sorrow. We need to remember the courage it takes to be authentic because authenticity requires vulnerability and acceptance of the totality of the human condition before it can be integrated as part of a larger whole. We need to be truthful with ourselves, conscious enough to accept the truth about others and to always remember that a true friend is person with whom you dare to be yourself.