The Culture of Comparison

Social media is, undoubtedly, the least social aspect of our lives. We’re drawn into a life where we’re enamored with the image of our lives instead the experience itself. Conversations are shortened to captions. Interaction turns into inauthentic attempts to “capture” our greatest moments and showcase them like trophies. 

When I was on vacation this past summer with my family, we didn’t have wifi or cell service. My memories from that trip are some of the most vivid I’ve ever held. We spent nights sitting around a bonfire reminiscing, planning, laughing, thinking, listening, talking, and living. I watched my brother explain his job with fireworks in his eyes and passion I’ve never seen in him before. I listened to my parents tell the story of their separate lives, their lives together, and the insurmountable amount of miracles along the way. We took in views of mountains that made you forget where the ground ends and the sky begins. For the first time in a long time, we discussed the “why” and “how" of life, instead of the “what”.

When we got back to the airport, I loaded Instagram. As I scrolled through, I immediately felt a flood of comparison, self doubt, and even jealousy. My friends weekend trip looked so fun - was my trip that cool? A girl looked so good in her photo - did I look that good in photos? It was as if every thought that hid in my subconscious revealed itself and came sprinting to consciousness. In a zombie-like fashion, my brother and I poured over photos my mother had taken and, subsequently, I posted an Instagram. Christopher McCandless said happiness is only real when shared, but it’s definitely not real when it’s shared out of insecurity and longing; especially not when it’s shared through an iPhone. 

I laugh today when I look back at that photo. The joy I feel when I look at that picture online doesn’t even compare to the immense joy I feel when I pull out the few photos I printed off and keep in my desk at school for whenever I miss my family, or even when my mind takes me back to those nights huddled around the fire. I can still see the stars so clearly in my mind today. Social media robs us of self-awareness. We absent-mindedly scroll and compare, and post things to our snapchat stories without even realizing we post so we can show off to others how wonderful our lives are. 

Time and time again, I see the most unhappy people as the most active on social media. I took a trip to Wyoming a few weeks ago with five friends. The six of us went hiking, explored, and were so taken aback by the expansive creation in front of us: the mountains, valleys, lakes, and snow. Five of us knew nothing could do the experience better justice than to just breathe it in and soak up every moment. The sixth friend posted an Instagram mid-trip, snapchat storied every interesting sight we saw, and uploaded over 40 photos to Facebook the day we returned home.

That same friend spent two hours, every day, on the phone with her boyfriend, who would yell at her for not being available enough while she was out of town and call her a slut for being out with other boys while he wasn’t around. The calls came first thing in the morning, in the middle of the night, during hikes, during meals, in the midst of a car ride, while we were in the middle of drinking games, and just about any other time. 

For any of us close enough to see this side of their relationship, it seems ridiculous. Utterly and completely ridiculous. But she’ll never break up with him. I wish I was wrong about that, but she’s too consumed by the image of their relationship. She worries more about people thinking they’re the perfect couple than thinking about whether or not they’re healthy for each other. Her Instagram and Facebook are full of photos of the two of them - posted solely for the validation achieved through likes and comments. Through this, she looks at their relationship from anyones perspective but her own, and does anything to keep the image polished that they’re perfectly happy. 

Invariably, she’s convinced herself she’s deserving of the incessant verbal abuse. She turns to social media to show everyone how happy she is. Her 1500 Instagram followers and Facebook friends have no idea her roommates hear her cry herself to sleep multiple times a week. 

So, where does the authenticity go? When did we stop living our lives from our own perspective? Happiness has always been present, but now it’s the expectation. If we’re not happy, we’re wrong. We’re doing something wrong, or something is wrong with us. I love all of my friends and I know they love me, yet it all still feels so surface level. The immediate gratification and validation we seek online spills into our everyday lives. Conversations lose the “why” and “how” and become centered around the “what”. What did you do today? What are you doing tonight? What happened to them? It’s all about tangible acknowledgements. We need everyone to know how busy we are, how hard we work, and how much is on our plate. 

A girl I know works in journalism from 9-5 everyday. She slaves over this profession she loves, but has no idea why she loves it. There’s no insight into what makes her tick because it’s all about making sure we all know how many stories she writes, how many press conferences she attends, and how many hours of overtime she works. She’s stuck in the boundaries of her tangible accomplishments at work, where paychecks and publications exist; nothing else.

There has never been so much noise in our lives. We are social beings, and especially in today’s political climate, where fact and faith have merged into one, we’re constantly bombarded with opinions. We go home, and rather than finding comfort and solace in the quiet, we go online and seek more information and opinions. Where along the line did we become so afraid of the quiet? Of the sound of our own thoughts? When did we create schemas for ourselves and begin living for the image instead of the experience? When did the expectation for happiness become so high and demanding? Paradoxically, through our desire for constant social interaction, we’ve never been less social. 

Life isn’t within cell range. Photos can’t encompass the true beauty of our world. Captions can’t describe the lives of the incredible people we know. While we feverishly click the like button, we rid ourselves of love. Love doesn’t come online. Love is a handwritten thank you note; sitting down at your desk to write a letter to a friend going through a hard time, stamping it, and putting it in the mail. Love is waiting until they get inside the front door to drive away; bringing the whole family, including the dog, to the airport to pick you up; listening to a friends music and watching the corners of their mouth curve into a smile while the sounds course through every bone in their body; staying up until 3AM, when you have to be up at 6AM, to help a friend figure out why they feel the way they feel. Love is bringing your roommate breakfast in bed on their birthday, going on a walk together on Sunday morning, driving around for an extra hour because the conversation is too good to cut short, lending someone a book because you know they’ll get lost even deeper in the pages than you did, finding the humor in less-than-endearing behaviors, staying in touch, and when someone comes back from a trip to tell you that a certain place or moment made them think of you. True love is intangible, and we all need more of it. 

- Anonymous Author