Showing off on social media

gardeniaI’ve come across a number of articles and thought pieces lately about uses of social media – what should or should not be shared. A commonality among those who care enough to think about such things seems to be feelings of guilt over sharing personal joys and successes online. Questions are asked:

Will people think I’m showing off?

Will my posts about all the good things in my life make less fortunate people feel bad?

Will people think there is nothing imperfect in my life if all I do is post about the good stuff?

I don’t really understand these questions. That is to say, I get that people tend to worry about what other people think about them, but these particular concerns are not ones I share. I worry about other things, such as whether a post could offend (which is why I never say anything on social media about politics or religion), but I generally assume that people will be happy for me if I share a joy or success. And if they’re not, that’s their problem, just as I consider it to be my problem when I feel jealous of someone else’s good fortune. Which I definitely do sometimes.

Perhaps at the root of these questions is the fact that for many of us, sharing a preponderance of good stuff does have an aspect of showing off. There are a number of kinds of showing off, some of which are worse than others. There’s the “I’m going to post about how great my life is so other people will know I’m better than them and this will make me happy” kind. That’s bad. There’s the “I’m proud and excited about this stuff and want to share those feelings” kind. That’s not bad. Then there’s the kind that I expect most of us indulge in at some point on social media: the “If I post about all this good stuff people will believe my life is great and then maybe I’ll be able to believe it too.” I don’t see this as either bad or not bad, but it’s interesting to examine some related questions:

Can we become the image we present of ourselves online?

Are we that image?

Are we, in some way, what we post?

I think this kind of showing off on social media serves an important and positive function. It is meant to convince ourselves as much as others that we have things worth celebrating in life. It’s a way of telling the story of ourselves, in the way we choose. What an incredible opportunity to discover what we value and who we want to be.

I’m always posting pictures of flowers from my garden. I find an incredible joy in flowers, but these posts function more broadly to create an image of the kind of person I want to be: someone who takes time to appreciate small wonders in her own backyard, who slows down and breathes deep. Posting about it helps me inhabit that image, and become that image. I don’t always slow down and breathe deep, but that doesn’t mean such posts are a lie. They present what I am on my best days, in my best moments. They help me memorialize what I like about myself and thereby become even more of my best self.

It’s so easy to think that social media is shallow, that it encourages narcissism and makes us all into liars of some sort. I disagree. As an example, teenagers posting selfies aren’t becoming self-absorbed because they can post selfies. They have always been self-absorbed. Why? Because they are at a time of life when it is really important for them to figure out who they are. They are telling the story of themselves, just as we all are, day by day. Social media has simply given us another platform from which to explore who we are.


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