Last week I had a craving for a burger. I’m not talking about a wimpy fast-food cheeseburger — I was looking for a fresh beef patty cooked medium, topped with an over-easy egg, Gouda, avocado, bacon, and spinach. What can I say; I’m a woman who knows what she wants and I don’t mess around when it comes to burgers.
I served at a gourmet burger joint for nearly six years, so I knew exactly where to go to satisfy my craving. I called in my order for takeout and cruised over to my old stomping grounds, hoping to see the friendly faces of former colleagues.
I was in luck! I ran into a couple of old friends. We didn’t have much time to catch up, but I managed to get a couple of hugs in before taking off.
As I devoured my dinner, I thought about my old friends, and how I spent nearly every waking minute with them for such a long period of time. They had been such a huge part of my life and it made me sad to think that I hadn’t connected with them in what felt like far too long.
But despite not seeing my friends for well over a year, and only briefly catching up with them at the restaurant, I still knew that they'd spent their entire summer at the cottage, and before that they'd taken a trip around Iceland together.
How did I know this fascinating information about their lives? I’ll admit that I'm guilty of creeping my friends on social media — as much as the next person. Through Instagram I saw the photos they posted from the summer cottage, and I stayed updated with their Icelandic adventures on Facebook.
I had kept up with their lives without ever interacting with them — other than a like here and a smiley face emoji there. But let me tell you, those little acts of social media kindness cannot sustain a friendship.
Little acts of social media kindness cannot sustain a friendship
Social media gives us a false sense of connectivity. We feel like we’re a part of people’s lives because we can keep up with what they’re posting, but connecting online cannot act as a substitute for building relationships through shared experiences. I may giggle at a funny meme that a friend shares online, but that doesn’t compare to the way I feel when I’m sitting next to someone I care about and I’m able to react to a story they’re telling me in real time.
Not only was I bummed out about missing my friends, but I also felt really weird that I knew all this about their lives without having heard it from them first hand.
Witnessing people’s lives online has changed the way we interact with each other offline. Conversations have shifted, and less of us are responding to a friend’s story with such answers as:
“Wow, that’s amazing! And then what happened?”
“What was the best part of your trip?”
“Oh man, I can’t believe you hiked that trail! What else did you get up to?”
Now, I find more and more people responding instead with:
“Oh yeah, I saw you posted that online.”
That, right there, kills a conversation. There’s no opportunity to build on the story. People say that a picture tells a thousand words, but we have to remember to give the person behind the photo the chance to say something, too.
Witnessing people’s lives online has changed the way we interact with each other offline
Another pitfall of only interacting with friends online is the fact that whatever we post only represents a small fraction of our personalities and our lives, and it’s far too easy to misrepresent who we are on the internet.
This study found that 68 percent of people exaggerate or blatantly lie about their lives online. People most commonly embellish upon their relationship with their partner and success levels in their career. And lying online in an attempt to conform to social norms actually increases feelings of guilt and distaste towards ourselves, which can lead to higher levels of anxiety. Attempting to shape our lives online can cause a sense of disconnect between what's real and what's fabricated. Our brains begin creating false memories.
Lying online in an attempt to conform to social norms actually increases feelings of guilt and distaste towards ourselves, which can lead to higher levels of anxiety.
Video by the HigtonBros. It's a little dark, but it shows how far we can go with misrepresenting who we are online.
We're not all liars on the internet like this guy. But I do think it's time we remove facade than simply show our best selves online. Remember: a real friend is there for the good, the bad, and the ugly. They’ll share a glass of wine with you over an Instagram-worthy dinner, but they’ll also help you out when you need to scrape the cheese off the pan because you burnt the nachos.