I am really interested in this phenomena that I am noticing around the issue of recording and sharing experiences. There seems to be a real need to record all events in one’s life – and I definitely fall prey to this: I have found myself narrating my experience in my mind, in a witty manner in order to share in a fun way on FB!
I took my three kids to Paris last summer, en route back to London (where my extended family lives and where I’m from). I wanted my kids to navigate public transport from the South of France to Paris, around Paris and back to London and all the concomitant excitements and unpredictabilities of travel – language, beds, food, money. Anyway, the last time I was in Paris, was pre-smart-phones. As we wandered through the Louvre, what struck me was the way people were engaging with the art. And the most insane moment was the scene playing out in front of the Mona Lisa, which is a tiny painting. The majority of the thirty or forty people in front of it had their backs to the painting and were taking selfies, many using those selfie sticks.
This made me wonder – why do we need to share so much? Are we showing off, or saying “well look at me, I’m having a blast in my life, Mr ex-boyfriend, annoying friend” etc? Are we trying to make our lives look spectacular to those around us in order to make ourselves feel better? Is is a desire to interact – you know those posts which call out for more interaction a “vaguebooking” post along the lines of “I’m really sad today” – which provokes friends into responding – why, what, can I do to help, or those posts which request information or affirmation. Or is there something more insidious going on? Are we fearful that if we don’t report on social media where we are going and what we are doing, and what we are feeling, that these things didn’t happen? Or are somehow meaningless?
Perhaps this is more about narration. Do we feel the need to narrate our lives in an external way to somehow make it feel real and if so why? In the last 25 or 30 years, Narrative Psychology has take off as a distinct branch of psychology, concerned with the way that we construct our experiences. Narratives – that is stories – are much more compelling to us humans, and we tend to retain information better if it presented in a narrative style, rather than a collection of facts. Interestingly, research suggests that well-balanced, civic-minded individuals usually tell stories of redemption – starting with negative issues, with a positive resolution, whereas those with negative mood disorders, tend to have positive memories, but when they re-tell them, they often end with negative outcomes. Don’t you want to go and check out your friends social media posts now?!
FB studies have mixed data: one study, which involved texting people 5 times a day to gauge their moods etc discovered that people felt more dissatisfied after checking FB and this was more pronounced for those individuals who socialized a lot in person – perhaps the comparisons were made more upsetting. Interestingly, meeting people in person ameliorated these views – so put down your phones and get connected with real people, face to face. In a commentary about the kinds of habits that exceptionally likable people have, one of these include, putting down your phone. I notice this a parent – the importance of putting down my phone when I am with my kids in order to have a meaningful interaction with them. This fits with the research on long-term relationships: those who positively affirm and engage with their partner around issues that are meaningful to them (put down their phone, look at them, listen and offer affirming comments) are more likely to stay together in the long-term.
Interestingly, the experience of social media can be positive for introverts, as detailed in this lovely blog post about being extroverted online, but introverted offline: in which Mark Collier notes that because he has much more control over the interactions and because he can walk away at any time, his online interactions are much less stressful.
So, let’s remember to put down our phones and engage with each other – perhaps have a bowl in your kitchen, and you ask everyone to put their phones in when they arrive at your home, or when your family sits down for meals. We are more likely to have healthier long-term relationships, will feel better about ourselves and, be aware that when we photographically document events we remember less about them, then when we experience them viscerally with our senses.
So, my friends, go forth and experience life, but you don’t need to tell me what you are doing!
Copyright 2015, Tamsin Astor. www. yogabrained.com/blog