Most of life is in the gray. If you’re confused, please read on. For the last few years, I’ve been continually exhausted by the simplifying of the content of social media posts into simplistic black-and-white classifications. I find this frustrating because most of life is lived in the gray. It’s exhausting living life in the extremes. I can’t be the only one tired of the pressure to see the world as black and white. When I think about my day-to-day life, there are moments of happiness, disappointment, contentment, frustration, and usually a bit of everything in between. Most days are spent in the gray. I’m over the lack of nuance and oversimplification of everything from a normal day to a complex social issue on social media. Can 2023 be the year that we can all accept and post like most of life is lived in the gray?
The increasing research on social media on our brains and mental health is well documented. While I’m not an expert in the field, I can’t help but believe that grayer content in our feeds would help us all. While we intellectually know the portrayal of life on social media is not reality, preventing the impact is harder. Constantly being bombarded with posts claiming that days, outings, meals, recipes, makeup, and so much more are THE BEST EVER, THE GOAT, or THE PERFECT (insert topic here) have an impact on our psyche. Simply changing the language to omitting words that imply perfection or unreachable realities can help others not feel as though their life is somehow lacking and releases us from pressure to meet often unattainable standards.
A 2018 article in Inc. asked respondents to post a picture of a time when they appeared happy on social media but were not. The responses suggested many of us are posting perfection when we are in the trenches. What if we could all post a bit grayer? What if we were willing to admit that dinner wasn’t just the picture-perfect moment posted but the wiggling, the sibling fighting, and the uneaten food of an overpriced meal? Would it provide a more authentic connection from those we search connection with? Would we find more contentment in our own lives? An article on Nature.com suggests it would. The researchers found a link between those who published their authentic selves on social media with greater well-being. While the researchers couldn’t determine causality, the evidence did show a connection. I’m just as guilty as the rest of wanting to portray an image of my best self… but what if my gray post helped others connect with me in a more authentic way?
The tone of social media conversation regarding any variety of topics that people feel strongly about has divulged into what I imagine the Romans enjoyed about the gladiatorial games in the Colosseum. Once again, this is related to the lack of gray in our posts. When we paint the world as black and white, we lose room for nuance (and connection). Just this morning, as I was scrolling through Instagram, I saw a post by Jen Hatmaker discussing the joy of decluttering through the somewhat drastic method of a dumpster she ordered for her yard. I quickly perused some of the hundreds of comments and found all sorts of comments turning this post into a condemnation about who she is and what she stands for. This was a post about a dumpster and decluttering! It’s so easy to find examples of other posts where the vitriol coming through on the screen is much worse than Jen Hatmaker’s post. In a 2019 piece in The Atlantic (a great read!), the authors point out that social media has become a bastion for humans to emulate our worse tendencies. They note, “We are easily lured into this new gladiatorial circus, even when we know that it can make us cruel and shallow.” Think about how much nicer it could be to scroll through social media if more people could recognize, for example, that you can care about the environment but still find times when you may need to get rid of a large quantity of trash. If we could recognize the two aren’t mutually exclusive. If we could live in the gray, we could connect and not demonize one another by acknowledging we can be both/and not just either/or.
I sincerely hope we can all live and post in the gray a bit more this year. The term “canceled” has been a near constant in the last few years as social media’s power continues to grow. I think this is also an area where we can really benefit from living in the gray. (I am not talking about the person who continually spreads falsehoods or spews hate toward other citizens.) I am talking about the moments when someone misspeaks or makes a mistake, and their entire life is upended because we are so focused on the black and white. This CNN article chronicles the public shaming and personal fallout from individuals who are living the real-world consequences of a social media fallout.
As my kids get older and are getting closer to the age of social media, this idea of posting in the gray becomes increasingly important to me. I reflect on the impact social media can have on my own sense of self-worth, and I worry about the perception of perfection on them. I also mourn for my children that they will never know what it will be like to be able to make misspeak or make a mistake without the threat of social media consequences haunting them forever. As a 40-year-old adult, I see this playing out in real-time as I see public figures and normal citizens sometimes dealing with the fallout from something they may have posted to Twitter in 140 characters 15 years ago. I am lucky that there were no social media when I was in high school and college, but I do have a social media presence from my young adulthood. While I don’t think I have any truly haunting ghosts in my social media graveyard, I have no doubt I have posted something that could be used in a black-and-white reality against me. My kids will have entire life’s worth of ghosts to contend with. I hope for their sake that 2023 can be the year that we can all live and post a bit more in the gray.