I have been looking forward to kicking off this segment for a while now because I feel it is extremely relevant, and while I have all of my opinions about social media, I am always interested in hearing other perspectives. This first entry features an interview with a very good friend of mine, Michael Gregory. He is a very talented photographer and a well-known Instagram user (70.6K followers to be exact). I actually met Mike for the first time almost three years ago at a local "Insta-meet" where several photographers here in the Central Valley gathered together and spent the day walking the streets of Old Town Clovis and Downtown Fresno taking photos and developing new friendships. However, in just a short three years, I feel the culture of social media and the heart behind its users have continued changing, and not necessarily for the best. I am thankful for the opportunity to sit down for a couple hours with Mike to discuss both the benefits of social media, as well as it's detrimental qualities.
How has social media benefitted you, and how has it negatively affected you?
“I think there are a lot of benefits to social media because we are able to stay connected to people around the world. A benefit to Instagram is in the realm of photography. In Fresno it’s hard to find other people that are really into photography. Through Instagram I have been able to connect with other photographers in the area that inspire my creativity and help me think outside of the box. I was able to ask questions and engage with them on a personal level. The friendships and connections I have made through Instagram have been beautiful, and it helps maintain connection with people despite distance. As well for me, in my photography business, Instagram is beneficial because it is free marketing. People are able to look at my style of photos to help them decide whether they want to hire me or not, and I have received a lot of business through Instagram because of that.
Speaking on the negativity of social media…people see my Instagram and think that I am just traveling all the time because most of what I post is photos from my travels. The reality is that I was a full-time student, (I just recently graduated), but the entire time I was posting all of those travel photos, I was posting three minutes before I starting my class, and I had class all day long. I am not actually traveling, but people are able to see my life through this scope of ‘perfection’ that I want them to see it in, which is a great negativity of social media. That creates inauthenticity. A few years ago there was a movement called “Live Authentic”, encouraging people to be more genuine and authentic in what they were posting. I thought it was great, people were able to be honest about the realities of their life. They were exposing that life isn’t perfect. But I think we have fallen away from that again. I think creating this perfect life on social media enables an inability to be authentic with other people. If we aren’t being real, we aren’t being known for who we are.
Each of us has a desire to be loved. We have ideas that in order for us to be loved we have to fit expectations, and a look, and the perception people have of us. Social media is a way to try and gain attention, affection, friends, popularity, and bottom line, love. We manufacture a perception that we believe will make us feel loved. But that’s not reality because people are learning to love what they see, and not who we are. I think what we need in order to be loved is be truly known. I think the way we act on social media is how we try to act in real life in our real friendships, and ultimately just reflects what our motives are within those friendships. I think if we are being extremely inauthentic on social media, we tend to be inauthentic in our relationships as well.”
Some studies have shown that social media causes insecurity and depression in teens. What is your perspective on why that might be the case?
“I absolutely agree that social media causes those things, on multiple levels. It causes depression because despite feeling so connected to so many people and receiving attention through “likes” and people engaging with our posts, there is an inauthentic level that allows us to create a fake persona. We don’t feel loved when people love our fake persona. When live to produce this false idea of who we are, even though there are moments when we can feel loved because of it, ultimately we end up feeling lonely and like we don’t belong because we aren’t being who we really are. That can cause depression…not feeling like we can be ourselves, or that we have to act or be a certain way in order to be connected and have friends to receive that affection and attention. It’s about the sense of belonging, and feeling like we have to manipulate who we are to experience love. I don’t think it’s just in teens, I think it’s everyone. It creates insecurity as well because of comparison…you see what everyone else is posting about and you can feel jealous. But comparison is the thief of joy.
We want people to envy us for how we live our lives, because we want that small ego boost, and we can become addicted to that. Our culture has transformed into one that is always on it’s phone, checking Instagram often like a second nature. It steals from our ability to connect with people face to face, especially when we are getting attention for our inauthentic selves…if we aren’t authentic online, we probably aren’t going to be authentic in those face to face connections either.
Social media feeds us with an inauthentic love that enables us to continue building up a fake-self in order to gain acceptance from others. Even though people end up feeling lonely in the long run, we can become addicted to the feeling of immediate affection. Social media proclaims that it fosters genuine connection with others, which sometimes can be true, but most of the time it’s not…it’s complete irony. Staying connected is great, but staying connected in a false idea of self is not connection at all.”
How would life be different if social media didn’t exist? And how do you think people would react if social media crashed and ceased to exist today?
“I think if Instagram never existed, life would look different. Instagram is heavily focused on imagery which is rooted in this idea of perfection. It’s like Pinterest, you see all the perfect houses, food, families, lifestyle…it feeds the visual senses of perfection. Without these apps we still have an idea of what our definition of perfection is, but social media gives us the chance to actually portray those things. We wouldn’t feel like we needed to perfectly curate a photo when hanging out with friends…we wouldn’t feel the need to show everyone what are doing. I think it would create a space for people to connect more when face-to-face if social media wasn’t a thing…but then again I can’t really say that because I think people are always looking for reasons to not engage with people deeply face-to-face. I don’t know if people would be more authentic if Instagram didn’t exist…I think it is our human nature to be inauthentic and to hide behind things. It’s not the app that’s the problem, it’s the way we use it.
On the other hand, as a photographer, it would be a bummer if social media stopped. I really enjoy being able to share the work that I do. Once I started using Instagram I was more motivated to dive into photography and grow in those skills. Without Instagram there aren’t many other avenues to share my work as easily.
If Instagram was suddenly stripped from us cold turkey, I think people would go through withdrawals, like an addiction. People wouldn’t know what to do. If someone’s social media persona was ripped away from them, they might feel even more lonely because people base so much of their value on Instagram. It would rip away a lot of the value they place on the things they do…would people order that cup of coffee or travel to that place if they couldn’t post about it? Probably not.
If Instagram crashed today, people would be on it to find other ways to bring it back or build something similar…if you look at the patterns of addiction, if we drop an addiction to one thing, we will quickly find something else to replace it. It’s our human nature. And I don’t think there is a cure than anything in this world can offer. This may be bold spiritually, but I think the cure is becoming self-aware, and shutting down the perception we have of ourselves that feeds our desire to build a false identity…when we are self-aware, and when we are able to be honest with ourselves, we are able to create and foster the kinds of relationships we truly want and need. And the only way to become self-aware is to let Jesus to search our hearts.
On my own journey of becoming self-aware, I’ve been able to have more grace for myself for the brokenness and imperfections in my life. But the longer I keep skeletons in my closet, and the more I try to hide the negative parts about me from those around me, I am not giving myself a chance to be fully loved and fully known for who I really am. I have been nervous to tell people that I struggle with insecurity and depression because of how much I focus on social media. I struggle with anxiety because of social media. I have portrayed a certain idea of myself on Instagram for years, but it’s not who I am. There is risk in sharing these things because there is this fear in all of us that people will abandon us. We want to be accepted, and we don’t want to lose our sense of belonging. But what I have found is that the more I open up about my life, and show people the imperfections of my life, I have been greeted with more love than when I lived to portray a fake-self. I have been treated with more love, acceptance and grace. I experience belonging there.”