Earlier this week, I was scrolling through Instagram and paused at a new post from one of the girls I went to high school with: a cute if somewhat blurry shot of her giving her boyfriend a peck on the lips. Her left hand resting casually against his chest…with — cue double take — yes, a ring. On that finger.
She’d just gotten engaged, and was announcing it on social media, as most of us millennials (and non-millennials!) tend to do with special occasions these days. The picture already had more than 100 ‘likes,’ many from people we both knew. I ‘liked’ it too, and I commented, and then I thought about how funny it was that, for the most part, none of my friends even know I’m engaged.
It’s no secret. I elected not to update my relationship status on Facebook right away because my Granny is on Facebook and I didn’t want her to find out like that. Then, eventually, I just elected not to post anything at all.
I find it ironic now because I clearly remember the night six and a half years ago when Dylan got down on one knee with a dozen roses and asked me to be his girlfriend; not long after, we both eagerly reached for our phones to proclaim it to the world.
Getting engaged is a bigger deal than entering into a new relationship; it says a lot more. But posting it on Facebook and Instagram for all the world to see doesn’t say much beyond “Look what happened to me and ‘like’ it!” because, I know, the world doesn’t really care.
“Social media. It’s like the next great genocide.” — Hari Nef as Blythe, YOU on Netflix
When I first encountered the above quote, it resonated. I’m not sure why, but I feel compelled to agree that social media kind of is like the next great genocide. Maybe it’s because the majority of people live their lives on the Internet: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat. Et cetera. Photos are edited and filtered, content is curated, tags are used to drive traffic and maximize reach. That’s exactly what we do on Medium, too. When we live our lives online, how much of our lives are we actually living? How much do we really experience and savor, and learn from, and turn into real memories that we can actually remember and not just revisit on social media? Or how much do we post for the attention it can get?
It’s possible that my friend didn’t post the picture for the sake of getting ‘likes’ and comments. I don’t post all my articles on Medium just for the sake of getting claps. But I’d be lying if I said that when I post a new article and open the app later, I don’t immediately glance at the little notification icon to see if there’s a green dot waiting for me. And that sometimes it’s disappointing when there isn’t.
There have been many articles written about how those notifications are linked to a stimulation of dopamine, the brain’s reward chemical, including this blog post by a research technician in the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School. Notifications pique our attention; ‘likes’ and comments make us feel good. Naturally, then, we’ll want to post more, to get that same good feeling when people react to it — as if clicking a button and then continuing to scroll truly constitutes a genuine, meaningful reaction. It doesn’t.
What it does do is point to the disconnect that social media has created in our society. For example, if I posted on Facebook that I landed a new job, one of my friends — let’s assume the one who just got engaged, with whom I’m not close — would probably ‘like’ it, comment “Congratulations!” and then move on to the next post in her news feed and never think about my news again. On the other hand, if I went out to lunch with her and told her that I got a new job, she would congratulate me, probably show genuine excitement, and then the next time I bump into her, she might ask me how it’s going. In the case of social media, a genuine connection isn’t fostered.
Maybe she posted her engagement just to document it for posterity, so she could return to it later and remember that moment, down to what else she was doing at that exact moment. But the details surrounding a proposal don’t seem likely to be something most people would forget, so if that’s the reasoning, why post anything at all?
I’ve elected to keep my engagement off social media because I don’t want it to become about the ‘likes’ and comments. It felt more meaningful to me to tell my family over the phone, and to run across the parking lot to my best friend’s apartment the next morning and show her the ring — after I listened to her tell me about her night at the concert she’d gone to, because I truly did want to hear all the details. Then, I’ve tried not to broadcast anything about engagements or weddings to anybody, even if they ask, because I don’t care for everybody to know, and I don’t care to talk about it with people just for the sake of having something to talk about.
I care to keep it personal because it shouldn’t be about me or about anyone else. It’s about us.