The nature of social media and its impact on whole societies over the years has landed it front-and-center in numerous studies and Ivy League theses. Social media has created a new "New World" -- different from the one named by 16th century Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci, yet ironically, sharing an emphasis on the phraseology, "age of discovery."
In a September 2012 DigitalTrends.com article titled "The History of Social Media," writer Gordon Goble's research indicated that social media and social networking as we know it today began in 2009. Considering that by October 3, 2013, there were 500 million people on Facebook, it seems as though social media has had a striking, global impact in less than five years.
For some of us, the mere concept of social media seems to have been invented with us in mind. I love social media -- and when I say love, I mean I love social media. For me, it is not that I have a desire to share every mundane aspect or moment of my life with others, but rather that I carry a burden of desire to communicate virtually anything. As Malcolm Gladwell describes in his book, The Tipping Point, I fit squarely in the category he dubs the "Connector," described as people who "link us up with the world," know large numbers of people and are in the habit of making introductions. If Gladwell's theories are true, then I believe social media platforms such as Facebook probably thrill other "connectors" in the world just as much as they do me, offering us a gathering place and an audience.
My fascination with social media is not an endorsement of mindless messages posted daily or countless hours spent trolling news feeds, but engaging in online social sharing has at times been therapeutic for me and enjoyable as I learn what others are doing with their time.
The downfall, perhaps one among many -- such as a growing societal inability to communicate in person -- is we also fall prey to that which has hindered civilizations throughout history, which is the habit of deeply comparing ourselves to others. I call it the "Fault of Comparison," which is dissimilar to competition and potentially more damaging to self-esteem. In our new New World of discovery, many people are comparing their lives, families, travels, friends, children and work to that of others. So while measured competition can be healthy, comparing, judging and dissecting ourselves against others appears to be adding up and at a faster pace thanks to social media, allowing daily minute-by-minute opportunities to do so. Therefore, in terms of this new reality, we must guard against the "Fault of Comparison."
As with any discipline, we must first recognize when we are falling into the trap of unhealthy self-judgment, making a distinction between wanting to improve ourselves in life, i.e. healthy competitiveness, and almost cruelly judging ourselves, even attacking ourselves for that which we bear no responsibility, i.e. our birthplace or family name.
Then, we must manually force ourselves to stop.
Over the Christmas holiday and in a moment of self-reflection, I asked a close family member to share with me honestly anything I might not recognize about myself that perhaps I might consider improving. I posed the question because it almost frightens me to think there might be glaring personality quirks that the rest of the world can see that go unnoticed by me. I would rather know than not know if I am seen as selfish, controlling, rude, judgmental or more. This beloved family member shared that at times I can be "all about me," which I can accept. Not a full-on excuse, but to some degree, I believe entrepreneurs have to carry some of the "all about me" trait with them, almost as an element of success.
I was more surprised by the next comment she shared: "And, sometimes after talking to you, I think my life is boring, and I feel inadequate." The words stung me, hurt, actually, because I would never want to induce such feelings. Then, I quickly started computing through the tears welling-up in my eyes and countered with the notion that this person loves her life -- and she does. I know she does. She responded, "Yes, I know I do, but I talk to you and then read what everyone else is doing and realize my life is boring." This is an example of the "Fault of Comparison."
It is one thing for a person to believe their life is not what it ought to be, prompting him or her to make changes and adjustments, but it is quite another for the world to inflict on a person the feeling that the life that person finds good and happy is worth less than that of others. Therefore, every person -- especially in this age of social media -- should consider taking the following steps to avoid the pitfall of being self-deprecating:
1. Be diligent and aware. Recognize the "Fault of Comparison" when it slips into our lives, through social media or otherwise.
2. Remember the grass is always greener. New technologies allow us all to make choices about what we share or do not share, often leaving only the good pieces of our lives for public consumption.
3. Stop it... immediately. Once we feel the creep of comparison sneaking past healthy competition, simply shut off the computer, close the program and put down the smartphone. Do anything to stop it, immediately.
The single greatest gift people can give the world is what is uniquely theirs to offer. As E.E. Cummings once wrote, "To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting."
If we all live in comparison of one another, we will ultimately water down, if not completely lose, our greatest gift to others: Who we truly are.