By Deborah Blackwell
Stuart Smalley got it right in 1991 when he coined a phrase we all want to believe: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.” Looking in the mirror and affirming worthiness out loud to overcome self-doubt, self-sabotage, and ugh — imposter syndrome, was genius.
But that was ahead of social media. Before that, we could keep our perceived shortcomings to ourselves, or unpack our deepest fears in therapy. When social media hit the scene in 1997, suddenly, we were “seen.” And it scared me. I’m shy. Plus, what would people think of me? (Yes, it matters to most of us, doggone it.) Not to mention that a never-ending feed of trivial information, like what somebody had for dinner, seemed pointless. I wondered what was going on behind the posts. The backstory. And whether they were even real.
For the first time since the onset of social media, I feel like people got more real. In the last couple of years, the cultural trend changed, and somehow sharing your thoughts, feelings, and life in 90-second videos set to music brought quick hits of authenticity to the table. And I’m hooked.
First, I watched reels about self-improvement, healing, personal evolution — like Stuart Smalley’s goal — to up level my body, mind, and spirit. Then, I shifted to random cat videos and got a daily dopamine fix. My cat-loving family and I now have an entire catalog of feline reels in our private messages.
Then out of nowhere a couple of weeks ago, my algorithm changed. I stumbled on the “husband-wife dynamic” feed and discovered I wasn’t the only one annoyed by how my better half chews. The other night I was laughing so hard, Sir Husband thought something was wrong. We sat there together for more than a half hour both wildly entertained and validated by the Mars-Venus conundrum.
Reels are pretty much infinite. Any category, any age group, any little piece of humanity you want to see, it’s all there. As I scroll through, I get a glimpse into the big world, learn things about my generation and the gens around me, see things that stretch my imagination. I find satisfaction, feel validated, even happy — a desire all humans have in common.
But I’m amazed at how brave people are. They’re putting themselves out there, without fear or hesitation. They’re not afraid to be seen.
I wish I were fearless.
I’m secretly an introvert, so I’m more like a wallflower on social media. Having a “low”
profile — never mind a reel — in the digital world is about all I can tolerate. I know I need to up my game if I want to market myself, achieve success, or realize my dreams. Social media says so. It’s unavoidable in this techno-ruled world.
But it’s a numbers game of friends, followers, and likes. There’s the disappointment of low engagement, not to mention the time it takes to create posts…or the frequency — up to four times a day, seven days a week, on five networks to boost your algorithm rank and get on the popular feeds…if people like you. Plus, the cultural rules are always changing. Which platforms, what types of media — photos, videos, clips, reels — there’s a lot to keep up with. How do people do it? It’s safe to say that in addition to being happy, humans also want to be “seen.”
I see you, humanity.
Writing, for me, is a way of being seen, because I write from my soul. It’s a window of words that peeks into my world. As far as putting myself out there, I’ve got a way to go. But soon I’m starting a podcast, so I guess that means I’m on it. It’s not a reel, so I won’t be “seen,” but at least I’ll be “heard” if people tune in. And that my friend, is a pretty good start.
“All happiness is a combination of enjoyment, satisfaction and meaning.
That’s what we need.”
Arthur C. Brooks, Happiness professor
at Harvard University