“I don’t know why I don’t have that.”
I hear this sentence a lot.
If you’re reading this, you are probably on social media, which means you’ve compared yourself to plenty of people within the last couple of minutes. You’ve probably wondered/thought/said that sentence within the last couple of minutes.
But wait. Please don’t chastise yourself for being online.
Yes, social media is part of the problem. Yes, life would be much easier if we lived in isolation, never to know the successes we somehow take to threaten our own successes, never to know the happinesses others have tasted and we have yet to try.
But, again, please wait. Refrain from demonizing media and your digital platforms of expression.
That’s a cop-out.
When you look at social media as a cultural phenomena (which is really what it is from a scientific, analytical standpoint) you begin to see that our engagement online only magnifies the issues we already face as a collective humanity.
From this point of view, it’s hard to argue that social media does anything but continually force its users to grapple with the confusion of existence on a daily basis.
Think of it this way: We are all living, viable organisms on a planet that sustains life. Our main object is to survive. So, we breathe, we eat, we harvest, we create, we reproduce. The purpose for our existence is to exist.
Then, why do we exist at all?
Wait. Let’s not read too much into that.
Instead, let’s focus on what our obsession with that question actually means. To compensate for the unknown answers in life (i.e. why am I alive?), we have created things to give us meaning. To give us pleasure. To give us goals. To give us purpose.
Social media amplifies what we already struggle to understand. Whether that means watching our friends play with puppies in the park or following a celebrity’s Snapchat at The Grammy’s, we are continually bombarded with the supposed answers others have found in life, wondering why we have failed to find our own.
“I don’t know why I don’t have that.”
That’s natural — not some socially mutant reaction to life.
If you disagree that comparison among humans is normal, you should stop reading.
If you agree, let’s continue. Under the assumption that yearning for more and wanting more is in fact a part of life, could we not argue that social media pushes us to aggressively confront our own weaknesses as independent human beings, day-in and day-out?
This is both a bad and good thing. On the one hand, coming to terms with your own existence and place in the world is healthy. On the other, continually demeaning your status/career/network/overall happiness is not only creatively inefficient, but also wildly self-destructive.
So, what’s the happy medium?
I believe the answer to this question borrows from one of the basic laws of geology — the law of uniformitarianism:
the scientific observation that the same natural laws and processes that operate in the universe now have always operated in the universe in the past and apply everywhere in the universe.
The takeaway: A process we have observed as natural and occurring throughout history occurs everywhere.
Under this law, you should assume that your natural inclination to compare happens to everyone. The celebrities you follow and the friends with lives you’ve wished for experience the same insecurities and think the same crippling thought: “I don’t know why I don’t have that.”
You are not the only one wanting more and hoping for more and yearning for more. However, do not use this understanding of humanity as validation. Instead, use this knowledge to pursue a necessary balance between ambition and satisfaction.
Whether that means unplugging occasionally, spending time alone or simply unfollowing people that consistently cause you to doubt yourself (in a way that’s not uncomfortably motivating, but hurtful and self-sabotaging), do it.
Just don’t blame your mediums (AKA social networking, media, texting, etc.).
Blame yourself (mercifully).