FOLO Is The New FOMO – Yup, That’s Fear Of Life Offline
You're sneaking on Facebook on Saturday night over cuddling with bae, and you can't stop checking Insta to see if anyone's liked your pic. Yep, you're a social media addict... but can you quit?
It’s so easy to get caught up in life online, as Aussie Instagrammer Cassi Van Den Dugen found to her detriment recently, when a picture she posted racked up only 14 likes, and she wasn’t impressed. “The lowest amount I’ve ever had on Instagram,” she complained. “All I have to say to those people who didn’t like my post and don’t like having fun is YOU ALL SUCK!”
As over reactions go, it was up there, but the reality is that Cassi gave a voice to something lots of us feel – that if our picture, status or snap didn’t get enough likes or comments or views, that it reflects badly on us. Of course, that’s not true, but we can’t help comparing, checking – and worrying – anyway.
And we’re caught in a Catch 22: we’re carefully editing and curating our feeds to get ever more followers and therefore, positive adulation, and all the while watching others’ apparently perfect lives. So when we don’t get the expected return on our investment, it can make us feel really terrible.
“I used to feel like I was failing when one image would get more ‘likes’ than another and sometimes I’d even contemplate deleting an image altogether if it didn’t meet my expectations of likes,” confesses 23-year-old Jessica McCaul. “It was pretty sad really that I was spending time worrying about something so insignificant, but that’s the thing, you do get caught up in the numbers. Many people won’t like to admit it, but social media can sometimes feel like one big popularity contest, and for me, it was like I was seeking validation from people I didn’t even know.”
Sharon Goan, 31, agrees. “You’re always checking how many likes or comments a picture or status has, like I need them for reassurance of some sort, which is crazy.”
For Sera McDaid, 31, it’s the relentlessly competitive aspect that gets to her. “It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing your life to other people’s highlight reels, and essentially that’s what social media can end up being. Rarely do people post pictures that are anything less than perfect: perfect lighting, crisp images, cloudy faded filters that trick you into believing that that person’s life is spent in rose colour,” she points out.
Even though most of us are fully aware that because we don’t put up the pictures of ourselves doing mundane household tasks (likes for scrubbing the loo, anyone?) or bother to Insta the crap meals, it’s likely that no one else does either. But that doesn’t stop us feeling like we have to keep up.
“It was making me very anti-social.”
“At first I’d used [social media] as escapism,” recalls Sharon. “But I noticed that it wasn’t that at all; if anything it was making me very anti-social – I’d find myself scrolling through my phone instead striking up a conversation with someone.”
For Sera, who used social media as an extension of her then-blog and a way to deal with her agoraphobia, it became a negative force. “Dealing with mental health issues and in particular, agoraphobia, made for a delicate situation to navigate online because it seems as though everyone else in the world is out living the best life possible when you, it seems, are not.”
And for Jessica, it was the sheer amount of time she wasted that became an issue. “I was wondering why I’d no time to read or bake or just chill out, and I slowly came to the realisation that it was because I was spending the vast majority of my time online.”
So can we quit? Is there life after social media, or are we too afraid to live our lives offline? “I found myself just scrolling through my phone when maybe I should’ve been sitting having a conversation with my partner or my kids,” Sharon says. “That scared me; there and then I decided to delete my Facebook, and I have to say it was the best decision I ever made.”
For Sera, a total withdrawal was the only answer. “In the end I had to make a choice. I wasn’t living. I was sleeping far too much to escape, whereas social media and blogging had been my escape. Essentially the life line I’d built for myself was having an adverse effect and I couldn’t find a way to make it work.” Taking a full month off proved to be a tonic. “Having quit everything and gone cold turkey, I realised it’s not as awful as you think it’s going to be. I survived! I read a lot more books than I ever thought possible in a month and I became a little more carefree in my life at home,” she says.
Jessica’s approach was to step back, and to stop caring so much. “I realised I needed to tone it down so I switched off all my devices and went cold turkey on social media and my iPhone for a week.” Now? She’s not so bothered by those illusive likes, either. “There was a time where I was a little too obsessed with creating the perfect Instagram image. Now I’m not bothered, throw on a filter and post it to Insta, and I’m done,” she says.
While all three are back using various forms of social media now, they’re wiser with it. “I learned how easy it is to hear the negativity over the positivity,” confirms Sera. “But in my time away from social media I also learned what I value, and that’s the social aspect of it all: the chats, the ultimate craic, the fun. Once it starts not being fun and just being sad and nasty? Then I’ll walk away.”
The lesson? Like a lot of things, it’s about balance. A little of what you fancy is the perfect mix.
This article first appeared in the January issue of the mag. STELLAR’s October issue is on shelves now!
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