Chapter 4: I wish I had the courage to be an absolute nobody
Early on in high school I was a shy kid with a small group of friends. I remember wishing that I was more popular and part of the “cool kids”. I wanted to be invited to parties and all the other things the popular kids did. Somewhat accidental I got exactly what I wished for but it turned out that it was one of those things that seems great on the surface but actually kind of sucks once you experience it.
It turns out that people with very high social status who seem like they’re the happiest people in the world are often miserable and care deeply what others think about them. We all know this on an inutive level but feeling it and experiencing it is a much different story. Then being cognizant enough and having the will to break out of the “trap” that we find ourselves in is a much different story.
For me I broke out the trap through sheer luck it was kind of bizzare to find out that people were jealous of me in high school and college because of the social status that I had.
I was deeply unhappy during those times but everyone else around me wanted to be me.
I couldn’t help but think how much of this unhappiness was connected to social media and the constant fear in my mind of what other people thought about it. It seemed like there was a microscope on my life where everyone was constantly monitoring my movements and I had to present the absolute perfect picture to everyone on the other side.
One of the things I realized later on was that nobody gives a shit about you. Once again, something I knew on an intuitive level but not something I grasped until I spent a lot of time thinking about it. I never once spared more than a few thoughts a day to anyone besides myself. So it seems ridiculous to care so excessively what that other people think about you when they in fact never think about you at all. Even people we are very close to might spare 5% of their day thinking about us. The rest not at all.
It’s not a bad thing. It’s actually incredibly freeing to not be subject to whims of peer approval and be able to operate however you want.
But then why do i care so much what people think of me? From a primitive standpoint being part of the pack, the tribe, or any group was extremely beneficial for our survival. Our ability to work in teams and support each other helped us survive. If we were kicked out of the tribe, there was a very good chance that we would die due to lack of resources and shelter. No one survived in cavemen times on their own. Therefore those who did things to keep their status in the tribe high and positive were the ones who would survive and pass on their genes.
This means that most of alive today have it ingrained in us through evolution to care what people in our social circles think about us. These feelings are extremely strong and powerful and are designed to help us survive.
It was upsetting to me as I realized my biology isn’t geared to make me happy but subjects me to the highs and lows of emotion so that I will be more likely to pass on my genetic material.
I’m fairly confident that social media has been able to “hijack” this primitive feature of my biology. Whereas before it was just the people in my family, my close friends social platforms extends this real world need for social approval/fear of disapproval to everyone on the internet.
It’s not that it just hijacks the response but it concentrates it even further through technology. Like how technology has been able to refine and concentrate the effects of opium into heroin. So the pulls of social status created by social media are far stronger than what we experience in real life. In real life we can escape occasionally at home or when we choose solitude. Social media never gives us that opportunity.
This is why the most popular people tend to be the most miserable because they are constantly monitoring their social status via social media. They’re concerned to be photographed with people who aren’t as cool or as good looking. They’re concerned that their photos are the tiniest bit unflattering and that everyone following them has seen it. They have to weigh the choices between deleting the picture, or the embarrassing post but then having everyone know they cared that much about their image that they would do something like that. Every night out has to be documented and put on facebook or instagram so that others know and rank me higher in the social sphere. There’s no way to use social media and not be ranked. Every post, every picture is subject to the ranking of your peers by the metrics facebook, Instagram, and twitter have put into place.
I still remember the embarrassment I felt when after the first semester of freshman year my facebook wall had nothing to make it seem like my social life was great in college. I remember feeling inferior after going on my friends walls seeing them having a blast and partying non stop. (Now I realize they probably had it worse than me). I also remember feeling good again when my social life picked back up and suddenly my social media made it seem like I was a cool, awesome person who had tons of fun 24/7.
When I was on social media I was constantly subject to the push and pull of invisible social forces that don’t really exist. It’s the elephant and the twig. You can hijack a elephants psychology and keep it held in place with a mere twig. It doesn’t know it’s just a twig though. Likewise, the forces of social media are nonexistant but they seemed “very 'real” to me due to vulnerabilities in my human psychology.
Now that I’m off social media, I no longer feel those affects. I wouldn’t describe myself as someone who cares what people think about me. Some of it has to be attributed to Stoicism + Buddhist practices but deleting social media was the necessary condition to get to that state.