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Social Networks as a Way of Disconnecting

As expats we live far from home, far from people who matter greatly to us. My own family and friends are spread through the world, and the technology helps me to stay in contact with them. I see my psychotherapist, my supervisor, my peers, and many of my clients on Skype. My 7-year old daughter has spent more time with her grandparents online then in the real world. In my case this technological advance means a less isolated life.

Picking and Choosing

Like many other people, I also enjoy witnessing my friends’ happy moments through the pictures they post on social network websites.

I am sure that at times, all of us feel miserable and ashamed of our own flavourless existence when we scroll through our friend’s dazzling photos from a recent exotic trip or a glamorous party. The kinds of moments we usually tend to share on Facebook are not the same as those we try to forget. Would it cross your mind to post a picture of yourself in old pyjamas and no makeup, with obvious signs of a hangover on the morning following that “glamorous party”?

The collection of anybody’s photos on social networks is a real Vanity Fair gallery. We all try to send out a message about how wonderfully OK we are, even if we don’t entirely feel that way. I guess that on the back of our minds there is always an ex-partner who might notice how young and beautiful and successful you are since he left.

Have you ever notice how extraordinarily cute your friend’s kids look in their clean outfits? Their partners also look suspiciously devoted and somehow incongruent with what we have heard during the recent phone conversation. The perception we get of other people’s life is strongly biased if we judge only upon their social network imagery. How many of your Facebook “friends” are really the people you stay in touch with on a regularly basis?

When do social networks stop being a way of staying connected and become a way of being apart? When you are sitting on your sofa and feeling lonely on a Friday night, and your finger inadvertently starts scrolling news feed on your favourite social media, it is probably time to ask yourself this question.

The painful feelings of shame and envy are easily triggered when you cannot avoid comparing your imperfect life with other’s exciting existence. Once you are on that path, it is often difficult to stop ruminating on the universe’s injustice and indulging in self-pity.

Not the Whole Experience

Being expats, we are separated from our family and old friends, and often we end up relying on social media as a tool to maintain our social life. There is nothing wrong with that, as far as we don’t spend most of our time watching people’s existence through the unreliable lens of the online social network.

Because of the narrowness of this window, we get some very partial information about other people’s lives. Exactly the same problem as with peering through a keyhole: all we see is a small part of the scenery at a certain angle; the keyholes tend to stay still. As result we get confused; we simply lack information about how they really feel (in face-to-face situations, we fill this void by an ongoing unconscious communication). This is where we automatically start projecting, imagining all kind of things that might not be real after all.

So, if instead of scrolling on your friend’s feed and thinking about how he forgot your birthday since his last move to a new country, pick up the phone and call him directly how you feel about this omission. There is nothing more efficient to undo a projection than real contact. Hearing your friend’s voice and laughing together cannot be replaced by an emoticon or a text chat. Not yet.

Step Outside

Compared to the few decades of internet history, we have been existing as creatures equipped with five senses for far too long to make us evolve that quickly into a species interconnected through some invisible social web. We still need to smell and to touch others, to experience them fully in order to feel actually connected.

So when you feel low, isolated, and lonely (which happens to all of us every now and then), just get off the social network and get out, where the real people in the flesh are. This step involves a higher risk of exposure for sure, but the payoff might be higher too. Nobody managed to embrace or to kiss on the Internet yet, don’t you think so?