There’s a myth about social media. That it connects us in a vibrant, global tribe. That it’s all about “sharing your stories” and “joining the conversation.”
It’s complete nonsense. Pure fantasy. And you know it. We’re not on social media to play “We Are The World” with our neighbors and friends. We’re there to do one of two things:
- Judge other people
- Role-play as better versions of ourselves.
Judging other people
Social media is voyeurism. We get to look on from safety at the lives of others, and experience feelings like:
- Envy (I wish my life was like that)
- Pride (I’m glad my life isn’t like that)
- Anger (How dare that person live like that!)
Envy, pride and anger feel good. They give us the warm and fuzzies. If they didn’t, it would be easy to overcome them.
Judging people is a part of being alive. I’ve been working on mindfulness for years, and I judge people like I’m Simon Cowell. Mindfulness training tells us to accept judgemental thoughts, not repress them.
The problem is that judgmental thinking can be strengthened like a muscle. The more you feed the beast, the larger it grows, and the more food it wants tomorrow. Keep going, and you wind up in a perpetual judge-a-thon with no exit. This is as sure a path to unhappiness as any other.
Our social media habits can be a 100-rep workout for the judgement muscle. The more we peep in on other’s lives and think self-satisfied thoughts about how much better we are, the harder it is to build the self-esteem and compassion that mindful living requires.
LARP’ing (Live Action Role Playing) is when people dress up as fantasy characters in real life. They act out the roles and fight battles and stuff.
People make fun of LARPers, but every day, millions of people get on social media and LARP as a fantasy character, too. They play the role of a higher-status person than they currently are.
Here are some of the roles I’ve LARP’ed as on social:
- A celebrity. I’ve posted pictures of my brunches and outings as though a fawning audience is clamoring to peek inside my cool life.
- A pundit. I’ve weighed in on hot issues for no other reason than to feel heard, important, validated.
- A comedian. I never pursued comedy (too risky), but I’ve pretended by posting witty quips to my feeds.
- A child. I’ve acted in immature ways that I would never do in person, because “Oh, it’s online, it’s just a joke!”
Roleplay is largely harmless, and can actually be good for self-esteem. The problem is when fantasy interferes with reality. The guy dressed as Gandalf has fun LARPing, but it’s a problem when he starts whacking random people with his staff. Similarly, self-indulgent social media roleplaying tends to expand into, and corrupt, our real-world lives.
Visit Twitter and watch the well-heeled, I Am Very Clever journalists LARPing as bitchy teenagers. Check Instagram and look at people do weird shit like pose in front of expensive cars as though proximity is somehow akin to ownership. Strengthening the ego comes at the cost of self-awareness, and it leads to more striving and dysfunction.
On a cerebral level, you know it’s just play-acting. But your brain associates the roleplay with good feelings, and the lines between reality and fantasy blur.