I really don’t feel like I’ve mastered this whole ‘living’ thing yet. I don’t know why I feel so inadequate, but I just can’t shake the impression that I’m doing it all wrong. Maybe it’s because of the seemingly universal and limitless reliance upon social media that we have in our culture; the irrepressible desire to share every second of every day of your life with family, friends and complete strangers. Maybe it’s because – whether I like it or not – I am bombarded with tweets, statuses and Instagram pictures of the minutiae of the everyday lives of everyone I’ve ever laid eyes on, as well as millions upon millions of other people who I’ve never even met.
You might argue that I’m only ‘bombarded’ with such things because, by signing myself up to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, I have chosen to be. I have opted in, subscribed to this relentless barrage of updates designed to document what is (arguably) otherwise an utterly meaningless existence. And really, I suppose it’s true. That’s exactly what I’ve done. But as far as I’m concerned, I don’t really have a lot of choice. I want to be a journalist, and since the general consensus now seems to indicate that print media is dying a slow and agonising death, I can’t really do that unless I embrace the terrifying monstrosity that is social media with open arms. I’m not going to let Facebook of all things stop me from living the life I want to live. If I’m going to fail, I want it to be because I’m a terrible writer, not because I can’t face up to the fact that Mark Zuckerberg is taking over the world.
When I told a friend about this, she assured me I was simply suffering from a case of ‘life envy’ and that this was a totally normal, and totally necessary part of being a twenty-something recent graduate.
‘It’s just because you’ve seen a lot of cool stuff on Facebook lately’, she said knowingly. ‘You know, loads of people posting about all the awesome things that keep happening to them. New jobs, new relationships, holidays, parties, generally just people bragging about what a great time they’re having and how f***ing happy they are.’
‘Yeah’. I said. I had noticed recently that at least 20% of the people on my Facebook were either holidaying in, moving to, or currently living in Australia. ‘I know what you mean, we’ve all done it’.
‘Exactly. Then you also know that most of it’s not even true’.
I looked at her with raised eyebrows and then said ‘of course it’s true. Why would people post things like that if it was all one big elaborate lie?’
‘Well some of it’s true, obviously. It has to be, otherwise it wouldn’t work.’ I looked at her, mildly perplexed.
‘Say for example I post a sepia-toned photo of myself on holiday looking marvellous in front of a bona-fide Neapolitan pizza that’s wider than my body; or one of me looking equally fabulous whilst eating the face off of whichever unsuspecting male I happen to be getting intimate with; or knocking back a whole bottle of Pinot Grigio, plus cocktails, plus the obligatory disgusting shot/ jager bomb. Or say I post a photo of my shiny new car, or the wonderfully romantic evening my super-dooper-amazing-fantastical boyfriend of 4.5 years has lovingly, painstakingly planned for me in secret, just because,’ she said.
‘And…?’ I said, skeptically.
‘Well, when I post all of those things, I guarantee there are other parts that I’ll conveniently ‘forget’ to include. When I upload the picture of myself with the giant pizza, I won’t post about the fact as I was eating it, my anxieties about calorie and fat content increased with every bite, or that I spent half of the meal looking up the nutritional info on ‘MyFitnessPall,’ or that I’m so worried about money and about my future and about why the guy from the other night hasn’t called me back even though it’s been almost 4 days, and about what the f**k I’m going to do with my life, that I feel physically sick. All the time. Nor will I mention the fact that because I bought the aforementioned shiny new car, I’ve been living off beans on toast for the past 3 months, or that during the apparently star-spangled romantic evening, my super-dooper-amazing-fantastical boyfriend and I had an argument of astronomical proportions, because he casually informed me that he’s signed up to teach English in Paraguay for 2 years but that I ‘can ‘totally come and visit, if I want’.
‘Do you get what I mean?’ She asked me. ‘People just leave out all the bad stuff because they want everyone to think they’re living this wonderful picture-postcard life, when in reality they’re just as freaked out and lonely as you and me’.
So, what’s the moral of this story? That social media and all it represents is a lie? Maybe, maybe not. The main piece of advice I took from it, is that things aren’t always what they seem. Everyone lives their life at different speeds, in their own way and in their own time. We’re all headed in different directions and as much as we might like to know exactly what’s coming next, sometimes – most of the time, in fact – we can’t. The best we can do is to make our own way through this weird and wonderful world doing the things we love, with the people we love, and the rest will just figure itself out as we go.