Worried that your life is boring? Especially compared to others? Don’t sweat it. All those smiling faces on social media are often masks.

Earlier this month, Natalia Taylor recently pulled a stunt to make the point. She posted some photos on Instagram about her trip to Bali: standing in front of an ornate mirror; reclining in a lounger; ordering room service; posing in a fancy bathroom wearing a robe and a towel around her head.

Taylor, a 23-year-old Californian, has more than 300,000 followers on Instagram and almost 2 million on YouTube. They flooded her posts with comments. “She’s living her best life,” said one. Another called her “our Bali princess”.

Thing is, Taylor took the shots at her local Ikea. Just to prove how easy it is to make others think you have it all together.

After seeing how her posts played out, she put up a video on YouTube (1.9 million views and counting in two weeks). “Sometimes, people want to lie about who they are; it’s not hard to do,” she explained.

As Taylor told CNN, “Don’t believe everything you see online. Today it’s easier than ever to become anyone you want.”

There are even websites that help you do it. At fakeavacation.com/ the pitch is this: “make your friends envious of where you are”. Send in an image, and they drop you into a tourist destination. There are “vacation packages” (anywhere from $19.99 to $49) for professional shots putting you in Italy, Australia, Paris, New York, Las Vegas and Hawaii.

In the testimonials, one customer says she converted her wedding pictures into a destination wedding photo array. Another had to cancel a real vacation so ordered up a fake one. A third thanked the service for “spicing up my Facebook”.

What are people trying to communicate when they do things like that? And what does it really say about ourselves?

In an essay in The Guardian, Moya Sarner argues that we’re living in “the age of envy”.

“Career envy, kitchen envy, children envy, food envy, upper arm envy, holiday envy – you name it, there’s an envy for it,” she writes.

That’s hardly new. Sarner notes that “Human beings have always felt what Aristotle defined in the fourth century B.C. as pain at the sight of another’s good fortune, stirred by those who have what we ought to have.”

Yet social media has turbo-charged envy. We see how others are (seemingly) living, and we feel outdone. Or we try to outdo them. Either way, being jealous can feed a social media loop and eat away at us.

It might be worse than that.

Sarner spoke to MIT social psychologist Sherry Turkle, who offered this insight: “We look at the lives we have constructed online, in which we only show the best of ourselves, and we feel a fear of missing out in relation to our own lives. We don’t measure up to the lives we tell others we are living, and we look at the self as though it were an other.”

That can be alienating, says Turkle, creating a sense of self-envy and inauthenticity.

In one survey of social media users, 82% said they falsely represent themselves, whether by removing the boring parts, or making it seem like they’re more active than they are. And that’s before the outright masquerades.

Don’t believe the hype. On social media, we’re often looking at and presenting idealized selves. In a Photoshopped, hashtagged, like-crazy, happy snappy, filtered, I-want-to-be-in-Bali-but-I’m-stuck-in-Ikea world, the only genuine thing left might be a feeling of inadequacy.

So don’t fret if you see others living their best life. It’s a fairy tale. Odds are, they’re actually living their best lie.

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxmanconnect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at foxmancommunications.com. I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, information, motivation, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, learning, etc.

February 26, 2020

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