A few months ago, I was standing at the top of a volcanic mountain range in Iceland. Iridescent green moss covered black lava rock as far as my eyes could see. It was like nothing I had ever seen before in my life––like being on another planet.
Naturally, I had my phone out as I walked along the mountain’s windy ridges, snapping photos and shooting video I could upload to Snapchat, Instagram Stories, and Facebook as soon as I could reconnect to WiFi. I say “naturally,” because tirelessly documenting the “big moments” of our lives just isn’t fun anymore; it’s essentially a requirement.
It’s like that age-old “tree falls in the forest” thought experiment: If you reach a milestone and don’t immediately share it on social media, did it even happen?
Thinking back on that Icelandic mountain top now, I want to kick myself for not just sticking my phone in my pocket, sitting down on a rock, and taking ten minutes to breathe in the sea air and appreciate the beauty of where I was, instead of wasting so much time searching for angles that would make the most shareable shot.
I have to wonder: What other milestones and events have I let get away from me because I was more concerned about the optics than actually enjoying the moment?
Social media has become, unequivocally, the most powerful sharing tool on the planet. We connect with loved ones, share ideas, consume news, start movements all at the touch of the button. All of this is amazing, and I think the world is better for it – but accessibility comes at a cost. In order to connect with the masses, we’ve traded our ability to enjoy personal and private moments without the acknowledgment or approval of others.
We’re not living in the moment.
Photographing and documenting important events helps us preserve beautiful memories we can look back on later in life. But when we commit ourselves to documenting everything, we risk missing the opportunity to fully appreciate the magic of what we’re experiencing. What if I’d spent more time looking at Iceland through my eyes, and not my phone screen or camera? I wouldn’t have nearly as much to share online, but I can’t help but think the memories I made would have been sweeter and more personal.
We’re turning intimate moments into spectacles.
Social media has turned us into performers. Every other milestone you can think of comes with its own way to show off the accomplishment to the world. Proposals, pregnancies, and gender reveals get more and more elaborate to impress social media networks (and even “go viral”). I don’t want to put down people for coming up with cute ways to share important news – I just hope we don’t reach a point where we feel the happiest, most significant moments in our lives are only valid if hundreds of people we barely know press “like” and wish us well.
Loved ones become spectators, not participants.
While my own engagement happened in early 2011, before Instagram even really became “a thing,” I still posted photos of my ring and a selfie with my now-husband to Facebook the same evening. I’d called my parents and grandparents to share the news, but everyone else found out about my engagement through social media––even my older brother who lives across the country, which I still feel guilty about. Likewise, I usually find out extended family members or friends are engaged or expecting through social media. Because of this, I often feel like I’m looking in on a loved one’s life from the outside, but am not actually invited to be personally involved in their milestones. By including everyone, are we excluding the people who really matter to us?
We’re using social media to feel validated.
More than a year ago, I wrote about how social media is not a reflection of real life, and how that was OK, because the internet is a place we often go to look at beautiful, curated, “unreal” things. The inauthenticity of social media isn’t the problem, but rather the way it serves as a substitute for self-esteem. Feeling good about oneself and one’s accomplishments is difficult work that requires real effort, and by giving us a way to quantify self-worth with “likes” and “shares,” we weaken the muscle we use to love ourselves. It’s fine and awesome if you want to share your life on social media, but remember that the response you receive online doesn’t reflect your value––or the value of the milestone you share.
So what can we do about it?
Personalize, don’t perform.
Remember that those big milestones in your life are for you, and they don’t need to be Instagram-worthy to be valid and amazing. Announce your milestones however you choose, and don’t feel pressured to make a spectacle out of it if that doesn’t feel like an authentic representation of you.
Call your friends and family (if you want to).
When a big, happy event happens, pick up the phone. Call your direct and extended family. Call your friends. It might feel weird, it might even feel like “bragging,” but your loved ones will feel included in whatever major thing is going on in your life right now.
Take in the moment.
If there’s one takeaway from this whole article, let it be this: Don’t spend significant life events looking through a camera lens. Wherever you are, whatever is happening, you are lucky enough to be standing there and experiencing it for yourself. Take in the scene. Commit it to memory. Allow the full effect of the moment to wash over you. Live your life, and love it fiercely without worrying about what your friend-list will think.