The Parallel Universe of Social Media

We know it’s all mere fantasy when Hermione, in the Prisoner of Azkaban, attended two classes in two different places at one time. But who would’ve known it can be a reality. Now, we too can be simultaneously present in two worlds. We talk to real people offline while maintaining our availability online. Social media has become our parallel universe. We spend as much time here as we do in reality. Sometimes even more. We see the pervasive effects of social media on society and how it has subconsciously dictate the way we behave in real life too. Do the benefits of social media outweigh the harm?

My friend and I have had conversations about this and every single time we’d arrive at the same conclusion:

Social media is simply a tool. It is us, the users, that determine whether we use it for good or otherwise. Social media, if not used deliberately and consciously, does more harm than good. And to be honest, we’d actually be perfectly fine without it.

Joshua and Ryan of The Minimalists in their recent episode on Social Media talked about this and I resonate deeply with their views. I’ll list some takeaways and reflect on how I personally view them as I go along…

Purpose

Firstly, when we utilise social media, we need to think of our purpose. What are we using social media for? Why do we use it? It is primarily a tool for communication – to communicate our ideas and feelings with kindred spirits. But that doesn’t mean we have to broadcast our every thought. We must be mindful in our posts, not adding things to the noise. We want to whisper to the people who are listening to us and listen intently to those we want to listen to, not shout our opinions into their ears and have advertisements endlessly shoved into our faces.

The problem with how people tend to behave on social media, I believe, is that we add to the noise mindlessly. And when we see others making noise, we are subconsciously influenced to add to the noise too. And that’s when we get keyboard warriors polluting the space. We then start judging each other based on our number of followers and likes, creating a future where we rate people based on their well-likedness and their high involvement and popularity in their online activity (see Black Mirror’s Nosedive episode). When we realise that we are knee deep in such activity, there’s a high chance that we are starting to lose our purpose. I have also witnessed how social gatherings can be too absorbed with taking hyped up, we-are-having-a-ball-of-a-time photos, and when the shot has been taken and the dust has settled, the atmosphere goes back to normal. Nobody talks. Everyone scrolls on their phones, editing photos, uploading them and waiting for a barrage of likes to come in. Seeing this made me realize the absurdity of the whole situation. Colouring your online world to impress others only to deprive your real world of the quality time you have. Everyone wants to lie and look good on social media, no one wants to be honest and tell the truth. (Case in point, I once had a friend who posted happy photos of his fiancée and him when in truth, he confessed that he wasn’t happy with the relationship and that he was thinking of calling it off. I deleted him off my social media world and felt repulsed by how twisted one’s intentions and how deceptive one’s photos can be.)

Anyway, I’m not ashamed to admit that I was once at that phase of mindlessly updating Instagram for the purpose of keeping my online persona alive because I gained important insights through such an experience. In retrospect, discovering Instagram at an age where I was still finding myself and finding my purpose was pretty detrimental to my growth and self-esteem. Getting on this Insta bandwagon was accidental, but as I started playing around with it without much thought, I got hooked. The peer pressure was heightened. What hooked me onto it was the feel-good hearts I got for posting a cool photo and the notifications that inject a shot of dopamine. But an INFJ like me couldn’t keep up to it. I couldn’t sustain this attention and pretend that it’s fulfilling. It was only when I hit a social media fatigue that I realize how all of this is truly a waste of my time. I looked past the facade of this perceived reality and started to evaluate my usage. When my followers peaked to almost a 5K, my introverted self panicked and started putting up her defences, filtering my followers and keeping my circle of influence more private and intimate. I also unfollowed hundreds of accounts that are either inactive or those which no longer add value to my life. Also, when a friend told me this: “I love the #ootd shots you post on Instagram!” I was weirdly unsettled and disappointed because that was really not what I wanted to be known for. That was enough to make me stop and think – the content I curate on my feed gives people the freedom to judge who I am and what my interests are as a person. So is this what I want to be known as? Someone who takes great outfit shots? Is this the legacy I want to leave behind? It came to a point where it felt like an out-of-body experience when I was scrolling down my profile – I didn’t recognise her anymore. The person I am deep down is this quiet, pensive, book-loving girl who just wants to share her passion for reading and writing, not this popular girl who gets hundreds of likes for a photo of herself. Now please don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that people who do that should feel the same way as I do but all I’m saying is… remember to keep it real. To be honest with yourself. I believe there must be more to that than this. Scrolling past photos of the less fortunate, of war victims, of children living in poverty makes me feel annoyed with my self-indulgent behaviour on social media sometimes. Is there more I can do on this platform? Am I benefiting anyone and have I benefited anything from anyone in this platform? Sometimes we really have to dig deeper to find our purpose and find out if we are doing our souls justice.

Thankfully, after much reflection and reevaluation of my social media usage, after figuring out my purpose of having a social media account, I am much less affected by it nor do I spend as much time on it as I once did. With my reassured purpose, I have established a precious circle of influence I have connected with via my social media platform, and whom I learn and benefit from every day.

Mindfulness

Secondly, mindfulness when we are on this platform is paramount. When we get so caught up on Instagram, we collapse the real world we are currently inhabiting. We spend hours and hours in this parallel universe, staring at our phones in this paralysing, time-sucking abyss of habitual inactivity. An artist depicted the sad reality of our technology-obsessed society through this series of photographs to show how addicted we have become. The minute we realise the amount of time we have wasted just tapping on our gadgets, we need to make the deliberate decision to step away in order to get a clarity of mind. Breathe and step out of this machine-like routine. Breathe and be human again. Yes, social media is a universe. But remember, it’s not real.

Augmentation

Thirdly, social media should simply be used for the purpose of augmentation. Social media is simply a platform to aid us in augmenting our creations. So here’s where The Minimalists introduced the 80/20 rule which makes perfect sense to me:

80% of our time should be spent creating while the rest of the 20% can be used to promote our product or service on social media. We let social media amplify or augment our creation but it should never be the primary means on which you communicate. So if we find ourselves spending 80% of our time on social media, and a meagre 20% on honing our craft, then that is when we have to step away and reevaluate how we are utilising this platform.

So let’s think – what value has social media added in your life? Perhaps a good question to think about would be this: How can I be helpful and useful on social media? We should not spend most of our time browsing and looking at other people’s profiles. Come to think of it, all these clutter only makes us feel discouraged, negative, and brain-dead. Like zombies.

Here are some tips to declutter your online space:

1) Unfollow negative or idle influences; accounts that don’t add value to your life

Instead, curate a list of accounts that can improve us. That inspire us. Make room for that which is valuable to us. “You can’t just pretend that the things you watch, and the things you hear, and the places you go will not have an impact on your character. They will.” – NAK. Case in point, I used to be influenced to shop for clothes and dress up nicely just to take outfit photos almost every other week because of all the fashion accounts I was following. I realize how the content of our news feed can be powerful in shaping our minds. Since then, I have been very selective with who I follow and who I let follow. (That being said, feel free to unfollow mine too, if you don’t see the stuff I post adding value to your life.)

2) Value-add your space

Another important tip I’ve learnt would be to publish only what adds value to others. If not, there’s a high probability that the post we are about to publish would simply be noise adding to the sea of noise.

3) Sporadically escape the parallel universe and live fully in the real world

Sometimes I would quietly retreat from the noisy second world we inhabit just to recalibrate. And I find much peace in that. You will realise how much real life living you’ve been missing, and how 70% of the posts you have been ‘randomly’ or ‘frivolously’ posting online were really quite unnecessary. You need to eradicate the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) disease that plagues your mind incessantly, and that ‘scroll-pause-tap’ habit.

I’m thankful to have this realisation, listen to fellow users talking about this issue objectively and reflect on my personal social media activity. I hope this post doesn’t come across as a diatribe against social media – I do acknowledge its benefits and I will always be an active user on it. I simply wish to put across the message that the onus is ultimately on us, the users of social media, in the pursuit of our individual purpose, to be responsible in the things we publish online. Here’s what I ultimately have to remind myself though – whether it be online or offline, He is always watching. Every deed, no matter where it is done, is counted. So let’s work towards making it purposeful. Let’s strive to have our social media postings make a case for us and not against us on the Day of Judgement. Value our time online and offline. Living in an age of infinite distraction and possibilities, this will prove to be a challenge. But let’s remind each other to refresh our intentions once in a while so we can step back into this parallel universe of social media and drive it towards a purposeful trajectory that will not only be of benefit for us in this world but also in the next.

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