Social Media and the Ability to "Be"

03/05/2015 12:18 am ET | Updated May 04, 2015

The definition of "social" has changed. You no longer have to be physically with someone to interact with them, and you don't even have to talk to have a conversation. Gone are the days where job interviews were limited by proximity, breaking news limited by slow mediums, or even friendships limited by meeting someone face-to-face. Social media has propelled us into a realm where anything seems possible, and the bounds that used to hold back society are gone. But lately, I've been thinking, have we lost something with those bounds?

I'm not talking about losing the ability to "be in the moment" -- an overused phrase often dropped by those opposed to social media movement, and one that I see as weak ammunition. What I'm afraid we've lost is not the ability to be in the moment, but the ability to just be.

I'll use myself as an example. The other night, I put together an outfit that I considered to be some of my best work. None of the pieces in this outfit were too expensive, but it all seemed to go together to create something cohesive and stylish, something of which I was proud. Maybe I've been following New York Fashion Week coverage too closely, but I felt inspired, and after I topped off this look with hair and makeup, I felt good.

I snapped a picture of myself in my full-length and immediately sent it to my best friend who lives in a different state, and who knows my style and can appreciate when I put effort into an outfit. She responded with a text that says, "'She looks cute!' -people I'm with."

"Success!" I thought to myself. "Her friends that don't even know my think I look good." My next thought was one that I am ashamed to admit, but one that I think modern social media has caused to plague millennials far and wide.

"I need more people to see this."

I don't have an Instagram account and most of the time I don't feel like I'm missing out, but I found myself wishing I had one in this moment. I wanted the gratification of "likes," of people acknowledging my efforts. My ability to just enjoy the confidence that comes with wearing an outfit I loved was compromised by my desire for the affirmation that comes from a like.

This is what I think is wrong with a social media obsessed world. We can't seem to enjoy something for what it is without wanting everyone to know we're enjoying it. We can't dance to the encore at our favorite band's concert because we're too busy capturing it for our snap story, to make sure that people know we're doing something exciting. We can't dig into a beautiful meal before snapping a picture of it first, to make sure that people know we ate something delicious. We can't have a great hair day or wear something cute without taking a photo and sharing it, making sure people know we looked good that day. We can't just be.

I don't think social media is a dangerous or even bad, but when we start using it as a tool to validate our lives, we give it too much power. The quality of an outfit should not be determined by the amount of likes you get on a picture of it, but how it makes you feel. A delicious homemade Thanksgiving dinner is worth more than some "double-taps," on Instagram, and a photo of a sunset or skyline is not quantifiable by how many of your Facebook friends like it. Sharing something on social media doesn't take away from being in the moment, by the anxiety that can come with monitoring your amount likes after sharing is a problem.

It took a personal example for me to realize this. Lo and behold, a photo was taken of me in my cute outfit that night with my roommate, and the next day, I uploaded it to Facebook. After uploading it, I obsessively checked my phone to see how many of my friends had liked or commented on it. I was sitting there staring at screen, waiting for people to legitimize the way I felt in that outfit. After a day obsessing about my social media performance, I felt vain, petty, and somewhat powerless in the face of this app that had somehow infiltrated its way into my psyche. I decided to give it up, just for the day. I wouldn't check in to see how many friends liked the picture, or, conversely, to see and "like" what my friends had posted from the weekend. I wanted to break from the cycle, if only just for a day.

I would be lying if I said it wasn't hard. The little red number indicating a notification popped up on the Facebook app on my phone, and a couple times I had to stop myself from clicking it out of pure habit. It felt strained for a little while, but then, it felt good.

Being in the moment is simple; social media didn't take that from us. If given the power to do so, though, it can take our ability to be. To be happy with our outfit for no other reason than it makes us feel beautiful. To be totally lost in a song at a concert and forget to take a picture of the stage. To be captivated by a winter snow storm and not feel the need to get the artsiest photo to share on Instagram.

Gone are the days where the world was large and scary and the people kept in their own corners; this is for the better. But with those fleeting times, let's not lose the intrinsic self-confidence that comes with not needing validation. Let's not lose the ability to just be.