Social Media and the Manicured Life

“Don’t compare”

Mrs. Shim, the director of Fulbright Korea, uses “don’t compare” as key advice on having a successful grant year. Her logic is that comparison leads to a fear of missing out, which leads to unhappiness.  Yet, I am in a country that embraces social media and smartphones, arguably even more than America does. The tools for comparison are everywhere. The kids that I teach have newer and nicer mobile devices than the teachers do. The social media culture in South Korea abounds—even my host family has their own private social network, called a BAND, to share each day’s best moments with each other. What this culture of social creates, to borrow from Walter Issacson, is a reality-distortion field. Life becomes manicured moments weaved together into a seemingly flawless narrative.

A few days ago, I was reading a short interview with Randi Zuckerberg in the New York Times. Zuckerberg, as you might have figured out by the last name, is the older sister of Mark and the former Chief Marketing Officer for Facebook. The most revealing line of her conversation comes when she notes how Facebook influences the way that people perceive her:

“I’m a marketer; I’m only posting the moments that are amazing”

The interviewer argues that Facebook is making us all marketers. Zuckerberg shoots back that she thinks social media is making us better storytellers. Nevertheless, if she’s right, just what kind of stories are we telling?

Judging from my experiences while in Korea and elsewhere, the stories we “write” are about entertaining. That’s logical, too—who wants to broadcast their complaints about the day? However, for people outside of our close friend groups who consume our social media content, for those that don’t have the chance to have a long phone conversation with you at the end of a stressful day, life takes on an alternate reality. Like television, our lives are then seemingly only made of our best moments or grandest failures, as the case might be.

We’re becoming better storytellers. However, as Jon Lovett emphasized in his speech at my graduation from Pitzer College, we need to reclaim authenticity in that process. We need to realize that a textured life can be just as, if not more, insightful as a manicured one.

I often don’t post about my struggles, partly because they are what I feel every new teacher or expat (or both) go through. But even if I don’t put them out to the world, my personal battles exist.

There are days when lessons feel like a complete failure, when I wonder if they left the class with more knowledge or less.

There’s the frustration  when the circular-communication model of using “maybe” and “possibly” endlessly to save face is too much and incites a burst of anger inside.

That moment when, even in a new experience filled with fresh faces, I feel very alone.

We don’t necessarily have to be all about doom and gloom. It’s important to entertain and to share the best moments, but sometimes those lesser times matter too. The rough times are when our commonality shines through–we need both to make a connection.

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About Jonathan Rice

Fulbright Fellow, Pitzer College alum, and communicator passionate about telling stories that make an impact.

Posted on 11/05/2013, in Fulbright South Korea 2013-14, General and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Great job Jon! Well said.

    Best,
    Angel

  2. Several great points, Jon. I especially appreciated you drawing out this instance between the two: “The interviewer argues that Facebook is making us all marketers. Zuckerberg shoots back that she thinks social media is making us better storytellers. Nevertheless, if she’s right, just what kind of stories are we telling?” Do you think it would also be helpful to look into the question of, if we are marketers, as the interviewer argues, what kind of “wares” are marketing? This could go in so many different directions, which is why I bring it up! I also question whether we have to take a stance for either being marketers or storytellers. Perhaps the two are more closely intertwined than we think.

    Anyhow, I wrote something on this vain (a more personal, transparent vain than my other blog posts) recently, and was confronted by the same problem of: Do I give the textured or the manicured version?

    Keep up the thoughtful posts!

    • Thanks for the kind words, Mimi! I think that your exploration of what we are actually marketing is the logical next question. I agree with you that the roles of marketer and storyteller can combine–arguably, you can’t be a good marketer without the ability to be a storyteller as well. However, the goals of storytelling in its own right are often quite different from that of marketing. On social media, it’s important to wonder that if we are so focused on creating a manicured experience, to what end do we go through the trouble?

      Deciding between a textured or manicured version is such a fine line, especially when we take the conversation out of the social media context and into the overall narrative that our online presences have on the future; could something too honest or textured be a liability in the future?

      Thanks for reading! I look forward to more posts on your blog as well!

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