If you’ve never read Hamlet, then this might be a spoiler: He eventually kills Claudius, his father’s killer, and the object of his mother’s “incestuous” marriage. But what’s the relevance of Hamlet’s story? It’s a story of revenge, and one of the most famous revenge stories in literature, even. Today, I want to talk about revenge and the comparison culture brought about by social media. Though not as brutal as killing someone with a sword, it still plays a big part in the modern psyche.
If you read financial articles and blogs regularly, one phrase you might always be stumbling upon is this: “Stop keeping up with the Joneses.” It simply means comparing yourself to other people, be they your neighbors, relatives, close friends, or even just acquaintances on Facebook or Instagram. They can also be the celebrities you follow on Twitter or Tiktok. Today’s hyper-connected world made comparing yourself to others all the more prevalent and somewhat inevitable. Or is it? Whatever the case is, our reaction to the constant barrage of “what others have that I don’t” can be detrimental to our well-being. When was the last time you bought something just because you saw one of your friends has it through their social media post? Did you really afford it when you made the purchase or was it a “revenge” purchase to show them you can keep up with them? You might say, come on, don’t we always see these things on ads anyways? Yes, but comparing ourselves to people we personally know has a deeper, more personal effect in terms of harboring feelings of envy or jealousy. And then you might also say: “Oh come on, maybe when you’re the jealous or envious type, but that’s not me.” At which point, I would say that it’s a valid argument, but when you are alone in your room, looking in the mirror, can you honestly say that knowing about the successes of other people do not have any effect on you? This is especially true if we’re referring to people you know personally, like your high school classmates, college friends, childhood acquaintances, relatives, etc. If you still honestly say, “Nah.” then who are we to disagree? But for those who somehow believe that reducing the chances of excessive exposure to others’ successes which does not really add value to your own well-being, or learning, the good news is that you can prevent this unhealthy habit by following some steps and counter-habits, as follows:
1. Only Follow “Niche” Contents.
Niche contents are people or pages which have more well-defined content, only relevant to your interests. For example, if you are trying to learn how to cook, then it makes sense to follow people or pages which are showing you new recipes to try. The risk here is that some pages or accounts also show you their entire lifestyle. If you’re fine with that and really admire the person, then by all means follow them; but if your are trying to minimize “comparison exposure”, no matter how well-meaning people are, if you follow people who post their entire lifestyle, like their fancy cars or houses, even if they also regularly post recipes, then you will always have that tendency to compare what you have with what they have. This concept applies to other areas like working out, fashion, etc. If you think that this type of exposure inspires you instead of drains your energy, by all means continue that approach.
2. Unfollow your Facebook Friends.
The good thing is they won’t even know, (or at least there will be no Facebook alert), unless they specifically check who follows them. I am 90% sure though that no one would even care, or confront you about it. People are too busy to notice. A rule of thumb is to just follow your closest friends, or if you can afford it, unfollow everyone. Here’s the thing: If you regularly talk on Messenger or Viber or some other messaging app anyway, then that is enough connection point for you. It’s not your obligation to Follow people on social media. It’s your profile and you should have total control over what you want and don’t want to see. If someone confronts you over a post you “should have” already seen, just tell them you don’t really browse your social media feeds that much anymore. You can take this even further by applying the same concept on Instagram and other apps. Remember: Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. Social media should extend our level of happiness and if it continues to be a blocker to that goal instead of helping us, then there’s nothing wrong in questioning how we use these tools and reinvent their usage in ways that will add value instead. For example, if you see a need to use Facebook, even if you won’t be actively following or reacting to your friends’ posts, try creating a Page for your business or interests instead. We tend to be affected negatively when we compare ourselves to people our own age, social status and other factors of proximity, and guess what, our social media friends fit all the those criteria! Social media algorithms more likely suggest friends to you who already have common data points as you. No wonder why numerous recent studies continue to correlate Instagram usage to depression and anxiety: It’s because IG is largely visual, teeming with supermodels with “perfect” bodies and wearing expensive and branded clothes and living the “dream”. While one could argue that these “ideal” lifestyles can be used to inspire and motivate people, we still have to look in the mirror and really ask if that’s indeed the effect or not.
3. Minimize Your Social Media Use Altogether.
A good starting point is to track how often you use social media apps. There are even free apps out there which let you track this automatically so that you can objectively measure your usage. Another helpful approach is to schedule your “Social Media Time”, say, two hours per week, for example. If social media is a river, and you minimize your exposure to it, chances are, you also minimize the probability of you drowning in that river, or maybe encountering alligators. OK, that metaphor might be a bit intense, but you get the point.
To follow or not to follow, that is the question, to borrow from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, again. The ideas above are by no means to be viewed from a “correctness” standpoint but from a value standpoint. If you believe that using social media the way their creators designed them to be used(i.e., maximum follows and exposure, maximum activities and engagement) and you think it helps you fulfill the goals you have in life, then who can really say that’s wrong? These ideas are alternative viewpoints which you may follow or not, based on its relative effect on your quality of life. Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!