Featured in the Knoxville News Sentinel: June 19, 2018
Recently, I have been having mixed feelings about social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, i.e., what are the positive and negative contributions to my overall well-being?
On the positive side, it is often uplifting to follow current events in the lives of friends and family members (births, anniversaries, graduations, weddings). Also, I actually read some interesting and valuable content online (finance, health, faith, relationships, community).
Social media creates feelings of inadequacy
On the other hand, I notice that social media can make you feel pretty inadequate. For example, on Instagram you might conclude that everyone else is better looking than you; fitter than you; richer than you; more successful than you; and happier than you. In the era of instant information, we can see what the Joneses are doing in a millisecond.
When did we start caring about the Joneses? At the end of the 19th century, two events happened that changed our perspective: 1) second-class mail was created and 2) the rotary printing press was invented. Subsequently, newspapers and magazines became affordable and widely available, and mass media was born. Literally, “Keeping up with the Joneses” comes from a cartoon strip of that name that launched in 1913. The strip poked fun at our need to compare ourselves to our neighbors as a benchmark of socio-economic or material standing.
“You see, we didn’t know that we weren’t good enough until someone told us. And much of that assessment was and still is, based on a perceived lack of things we’re told we should want or have. ‘Fortunately,’ those same magazines provided us with ready solutions in the form of advertisements for products that would ‘catch us up’ to the Joneses,” writes Dr. Mary Pritchard, a psychology professor at Boise State University.
Today, adds another research professor, Dr. Brene Brown of the University of Houston, “I see the cultural messaging everywhere that says that an ordinary life is a meaningless life.”
Big hat, no cattle
News flash: Those Instagramers with the new car, new boat, new house, or impressive (fill-in-the-blank) probably don’t own any of it — the bank or the credit card company do! Or, as our friends in Texas say, “Big hat, no cattle.”
We need to stop this madness. Do it for your kids. Do it for yourself. Call me a finance nerd but what really impresses me is a person who drives their Honda for a decade, keeps their aging home in good repair, pays off the mortgage, and keeps some cash in the bank. And if they exercise regularly and eat wisely, they move up to rock star status in my envy!
Perhaps “The new Joneses” can be summed up in this recent Facebook post I read, “The most valuable things in life are not things. They are people and places and memories. They are feelings and moments and smiles and laughter.”