What a World We Live In: I Can’t Opt Out

Leandra Medine | January 4, 2016

Man Repeller What a world we live in

On the last day of 2015, I was sitting in the breakfast room of a resort in Mexico eating a plate of papaya thinking about what I would do for dinner when I got home that evening to celebrate New Years with my husband. I scrolled through Instagram and with each passing photo, I felt like New Year’s Eve was a bigger deal than it had ever been. Like the earth had sent an echo through its pockets, affecting all those who reckoned themselves participants of the planet to demand that this year, they go hard.

There were the extensive sunrises and sunsets, peppered by palm trees and white sand beaches. These came with captions that bid adieus on this day of finalities. Then there were the sparkles and the sequins — glitter and beads that came only to underline comments bursting with hope and anticipation to ignite the fire of unknown that lay ahead. And then, of course, there were the hollow calls to FOMO — inflated plans that seem unnatural, there only as if to say, “What I’m doing is better than what you’re doing.”

Of course, though, none of us are strangers to social media FOMO. Is not, after all, Instagram a mere popularity contest to prove that “my life is better than yours”? But as with everything else, you have the choice to opt in or out. Follow or unfollow. Like or dislike. And frankly speaking, that conversation is stale. What I’m more concerned with is a recent condition I’ve identified that has magnified the celebration of global events to a degree that is not just becoming unsustainable but I fear is actually affecting my ability to think for myself.

When I started out with the plate of papaya that morning, I planned to, at best, cook something vaguely festive while wearing a ton of sequins to inaugurate the new year. At worst, I’d watch a movie and fall asleep before the ball drop, but as I let myself fall down the rabbit hole that is a new kind of TMZ, I felt less and less like the plans I wanted to put in place were adequate enough. Like I needed to be making a bigger deal, one more in line with the preparations for the many hooplas that I was seeing. And I felt like I needed to be loud about it. To reflect on the previous year publicly, to renounce bad habits and to find a mystical sunset to post so that I could thank the fantastic citizens of Man Repeller’s account. (Seriously, though, thank you.)

But see, that’s not even it. Remember when cultural activities like Coachella, Art Basel, SXSW or Fashion Week were specifically catered to the interests of very particular groups (music, art, tech, clothing) of creatives? Don’t you find that they’ve each become their own massive, global experiences that are supposed to appeal to everyone within, essentially, a certain age bracket? I’ve been to Coachella four times and guess what? I don’t even like live music. It scares me to be among huge crowds and takes about three days to recover the ringing in my ears after the fact.

I know that realistically, there are those who are strong enough to plead the fifth. But what about those who, like me, aren’t? Who feel obligated to engage even when it’s not coming from the most authentic place? Keep it up and the dishonesty begins to affect you in a very real way. You run the risk of diluting your identity. Of convincing yourself that you want something you don’t —  or you are someone who ultimately, you aren’t. And when you’ve done that, when you’ve lost your grounding, don’t you lose what makes you you? At that point, I gotta wonder: what are we left with if not a society of people who are miserable but can’t figure out why?

Collage by Emily Zirimis

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  • Poppy Mee

    I’ve been thinking exactly the same thing lately. Social media seems more and more to leave a limited range of ways in which to express oneself, and the spectrum of possibility only narrows the more you invest in it. Particularly if you’re trying to look cool, as we all are, we don’t present our genuine self but rather an identifiable selection of images designed and curated purely for validation. And everyone does it! We all inherently know that if for example a photo is framed a certain way, tagged with the right phrases and filtered just so, that the image will garner a response regardless of the content. It’s addictive because the fulfillment-y feeling only lasts 3 seconds and then we are left feeling bereft, isolated and with that weird, lightheaded empty feeling like when i drink black coffee. Comforting that others feel similar x

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  • Haley Chatlin

    This article is on point. Everybody wants to be a part of everything, we all have a fear of missing out or not doing what we feel like we should be doing. I am guilty of it all the time, so much so I feel as though it has changed the way I live my life. Some aspects of it are definitely positive, but what is the point in which you lose yourself and become a “cookie cutter” in the attempt to be unique?

  • M Rae

    leandra, that closing line! ominous!! (that’s a semi-scold bc i need your positivity) but honestly, pure sincere self-recognition is the first step to quelling the miserable insta-brag-groupthink so keep spreading the good word. and listened to your podcast today and was also strangely equally void of opinions till 18+! definitely a bizarro combination of parenting/community and my naturally assumed observers perch. either way, it worked out?

  • Quinn Halman

    Social media is an indirect form of peer pressure! It is also a platform to become vulnerable. You can’t convince yourself you didn’t see something even if you don’t like it and liking your own picture adds only so much (one like). Which is why so many of my peers have a “finsta”, a fake Instagram account where only few friends are granted access to an all honesty stream of photos. Because, really, #nofilter all you want but what is posted is often calculated

    • Anna Kalmbach

      May have to steal the Finsta idea

  • http://memyselfandboston.wordpress.com/ Patricia Perez

    Social media is the new compliment to fancy cars and purses used for appearances. I think social media is fun (same with nice fashion items and other luxury things) but once we start being limited and consumed by them do we stop being ourselves. Things that used to be a way for us to express ourselves creatively have unfortunately become something that limits us.

    Patricia
    http://thesundayusual.blogspot.com

  • Herd Nicholas

    This article helps take the pressure off, glad I read this and listened to the MONOCYCLE on NYE ( http://www.manrepeller.com/2015/12/leandra-medine-podcast-episode-7.html )

    What did you end up doing?

  • https://instagram.com/freckledcanvas Freckled Canvas

    I would like to opt my face into that food up there.

  • Adardame

    I keep thinking about swearing off social media. It consumes hours of my life, and I don’t feel like I’ve become a better person for reading it. I understand this is not an option for you, since you run a blog for a living.

    I saw some new year celebration photos on some news site the day after and was surprised by the variety of places it was being celebrated. I thought people in other countries had different calendars, but maybe that’s been changed.

    I am to the point where fancy celebrations seem a bit fake. What’s so exciting about throwing confetti in the air? I didn’t win a million dollars. I could get drunk at a party any day. I understand lots of timed electric lights used to be impressive, but now people do that to their houses for fun. And sunset goodbye memes are so overused. You can’t afford to put real emotion into something that’s going to float around the internet for years. Here you (not you personally, you figuratively) are, spending all your time putting some wistful sayings on a picture when you could have been spending real time with your family. Is that a celebration?

    • http://Glamorousrevelation.blogspot.com Munachi

      In reference to that little part in the middle of your comment:

      “…people in other countries had different calendars” ? no, my friend. The most well known ‘different calendars’ are the Chinese and Jewish calendars but for the most part, several other countries across the world celebrate the same new year as the U.S.

      Just a little info ?

  • Sunny

    This was your best, most resonant post to date. Thank you.

  • Lou

    I wish I could relate, but I don’t really get it. Why did you feel the need to scroll through Instagram on a vacation day? This is the time where you CAN say, “Just made dinner & had a delicious vacation from work/internet/life to ring in the new year with my family.” Why go to coachella more than once if you hate live music? (I do too, btw.) This post is interesting, but as I’m sure you know, you’re just scratching the surface. Your feelings of unidentifiable shame, guilt and most of all unworthiness are the heart of this, not the Internet. In other words, how we are reacting to social media as a culture is not about social media at all, but about each of our individual reactions to it. And in that sense, it’s a great teacher. I do think you’re at the point of exhausting the topic before you take action to become more authentic–on Instagram & otherwise–which seems to concern you most.

  • Estee

    Very true – social media cam become a popularity game.
    Estee from The Little Stylist
    http://www.thelittlestylist.blogpsot.com

  • kevynryan

    This is a cycle I find myself in a lot with my YouTube channel. It’s like you wish you could see yourself through other people’s eyes but then, as soon as you do, you immediately want to put the toothpaste back in the tube, (pun unintended) or whatever metaphor you choose. it did have a silver lining, though. I decided I couldn’t watch myself be not myself, and was left with only one option, just plain old me. Needless to say, the idea of an “Instagram theme” is lost on me.

  • JP

    Not once have I regretted putting down my phone to spend f2f time with people, to read books instead of Facebook, or ignore Instagram or Twitter. The FMO is too great and just makes me miserable.

    • Leandra Medine

      i feel like that about working out/ i’ve never regretted a fitness class after the fact, but man does it take every inch of willpower in me to getthere.

  • http://kristylin.com Kristy

    I thought I opted out of the competition but I’ve gotten sucked in I’m totally guilty of humble bragging even if I’ve never been on a yacht–I’ve still found things to passively show off I guess. I’m totally addicted to the internet right now…even when being in a different country gives me hours without internet, I’m still spending way too many hours on the internet TELL ME WHAT TO DO

    You do make me feel better whenever I feel like a jealous slob though.

  • http://www.americanheavyweight.com American Heavyweight

    “you run the risk of diluting your identity.” this is very true. In a more positive light, how are you to find your identity – what you love and loathe – without trying out experiences? Maybe not returning to Coachella for a 4th time, per se.

    • Leandra Medine

      I agree with you completely. One of my favorite things about fashion — it’s the temporary tattoo that lets you be any and everyone, whenever you’d like. I’m more talking about what happens when you’re not aware of the fact that you’re in a game of trial and error, like when you’re manipulated into thinking that you are a certain way when ultimately YOU NOT

      • http://www.americanheavyweight.com American Heavyweight

        ah yes, I see. That moment when you’re reflecting back on something or event and realizing it doesn’t resonate with you are or want to be and didn’t even want to try it on in the first place. But in your role at ManRepeller, how do you navigate this tenuous relationship?
        http://i.giphy.com/MjCgH2eZuBtcc.gif

        • Leandra Medine

          It’s certainly a challenge — I’ll find that it happens every so often that when I look back at the previous month’s content, I realize that slivers of it were motivated by insecurity (to perform, to achieve, to capture the most eye balls) and based on that, will pivot and put changes in place. What’s awesome about working on the web and specifically for a daily in digital media is that you can make changes and see progress immediately

          • http://www.americanheavyweight.com American Heavyweight

            you’re running a business so you have to generate content that balances your vision within online digital media constraints while keeping an eye on authenticity and profitability. It’s a complicated dialogue you are having with readers, media, ‘fashion’ and of course, you at the centre of it all. One thing that has been a consistent thread throughout your content over the years is transparency. You are transparent about your intentions – to have fun and use fashion as a temporary tattoo as you astutely put it – while we grow as women.

  • Gretel Stroh

    I have an online business, the main reason I’m on social media to promote it, and I’m not going to tell you what it is!

  • http://www.nouveauclassical.org/ Sugar Vendil

    Social media can be awesome because it’s essentially a free pr tool but yeah, it also makes people feel terrible. Especially as an artist…sometimes it’s feels like everyone else is winning when you see who’s won which award etc. it can feel like a constant reminder of failure. My colleagues are getting nominated for and winning Grammys and Pulitzers, and our whole circle gets reminded of it every time we go online. Totally happy for them but it can be a lot to see things like this in your feed. But I’m sure things I’ve posted have inadvertently made other people feel inadequate. All of us have the potential to make people feel this way on social media.

    It’s important to remember that things look better than they actually are and we should all be mindful of that–your article is a good reminder.

    In terms of not using it: that’s not an option for me. It’s the best way I know how to get the word out about my work and engage with other artists outside of New York.

    P.S. I feel you on the live music concerts. And I’m a musician! I like live classical and new music concerts or pop concerts in smaller venues, but I hate seeing them in larger spaces with huge crowds.