SOCIAL MEDIA COMPARISON

The Second Most Dangerous Game

Fohr
Sophie Wood
February 9, 2024
Updated Feb 26, 2024
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My Instagram bio proudly boasts “chronically online”—a playful nod to an insult that’s often used in comment sections to describe someone whose existence revolves around the Internet. It’s how I beat onlookers to the punch when they're about to judge me for being a content creator. In a way, I get to make the joke before they can.

Perception control aside, “chronically online” is still a reasonably accurate self-descriptor. I was destined for tech-neck; born into the digital age and addicted to the computer by the tender age of 11. I practically walked out of the womb with a digital footprint, publicly cataloging my life in early tween musings on MySpace and continuing the saga on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, TikTok, and a slew of other short-lived platforms that lived and died in between. In short, I've never known a world that doesn't involve broadcasting my every thought to the public while also peering through the windows of others’ lives online.

Dunbar’s Number theorizes that we can only maintain meaningful relationships with about 150 people at once. If that’s accurate, I should know details about only 150 peoples’ lives. So what does that mean when I follow more than 3,000 on Instagram alone? Should I really have a front-row seat to every life update and milestone from everyone I've ever encountered, in addition to hundreds of people I’ll never meet? 

When I slip into scrolling, it can be like looking through a cosmic View-Master, one image after another: a man down on one knee, new house keys, a sonogram, the dream job, rinse and repeat. As I sit in my rental apartment—ringless, childless, and too financially illiterate to even consider buying a home—I begin to feel like I’ve shown up to a Thanksgiving dinner where my peers have become grown-ups at tables adorned with fine china and impressive silverware, while my shins are still pressed against the Fisher-Price kids’ table.

Consistent access to the daily updates of 3,000 lives lures me into a treacherous, albeit self-inflicted, game of comparison, blurring the lines between what I truly desire and what I believe I should desire. Deep down, I know I'm not ready to tie the knot tomorrow. But each time I pick up my phone and witness another high school acquaintance flashing a freshly-iced ring finger with hands cupped over a surprised mouth, I can't help but feel like I'm falling behind.

It's taken me quite some time to realize that what I consume on social media has distorted my personal aspirations and desires. So, I can't help but wonder: how many decisions have I already made based on desires that weren't truly my own? And on the other hand, as a content creator who also cherry-picks the aspects of my life that I share online: am I also to blame for distorting the desires of others?

I’ve come to realize that a decent chunk of my following is a direct result of the specific parts of myself I share online: a girl with a creative job that pays enough for second hand designer clothes (girlboss!), a girl who spends her spare time reading Joan Didion in the cozy confines of a Manhattan apartment (intellectual!).  

It’d be naive of me to not consider how that persona makes other people feel—do I make them feel unsatisfied with a job they’d otherwise be content with? Does it provoke a twinge of guilt when they opt for TV over books? Does it stir a longing to abandon their hometowns in search of an elusive brand of independence in a city?

While some might suggest getting off the apps entirely, my job hinges on an intimate knowledge of the online world—the latest trend, the up-and-coming creator, the conversations a Boomer marketing executive couldn’t understand without my translation. While going off the grid might be in the best interest of my mental health, it's at odds with my career objectives—and yes, social media is also a meaningful tether to the broader world, but my job is the only thing holding me back from cutting the cord entirely. So, I’m back at square one.

As I wrestle with this unending dilemma, the phenomenon of online comparison and the skewing of desires, I get lost in the same cycle of questions. I wish I could get to an answer, a straightforward guide to navigate the treacherous maze of digital existence. But instead, I let muscle memory guide me as I mindlessly open Instagram to find, this time, that Emily from college is engaged. "Congratulations!!!" I type reflexively, twirling in the digital dance with sincerity and reflection.

Sophie Wood is a Senior Creative Strategist at Fohr, raised on the West Coast but now firmly an East Coast girly. Outside of work, she’s a fashion and lifestyle creator on Instagram and TikTok (@goodwoodx). She is resigned to tech neck, but still welcomes suggestions for combating it. Reach her at sophie@fohr.co.

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