There’s a new supervillain roaming the streets of our cities, our towns, and our neighborhoods. His deceitful voice keeps teenagers and grandmas alike lying awake at night in fear. His talons infuse anxiety into the hearts of whoever he gets a grip on. You only know he exists through the trail of destruction he leaves behind as no one has ever seen him. His name is Instaman.
Or maybe it’s Instawoman… or Instafamily, or it’s Instalifestyle. Ok, ok… are you catching on? Instaman isn’t a man at all. He’s merely an amalgamation of all the “perfect lives” we’re bombarded with every day through social media. He’s the “perfect person” we all unfairly compare ourselves to.
The human spirit wasn’t designed to compare itself to more than a thousand people, let alone the whole globe. The Jones’ are no longer the nice-looking family with luxury cars in the McMansion down the street. Now, it’s a faceless combination of the world’s best, all mushed into one entity in your head.
What happens when you scroll through Instagram? You scroll from one picture to the next, seeing one perfectly curated aspect of one’s life to another perfectly curated aspect of someone else’s, and to the next and the next and the next. Subconsciously, you start to form a collective Instaperson who has the enviable attributes and experiences of everyone you follow.
Instaman makes you selectively jealous. You’re jealous of this person’s looks or that person’s money or this person’s family or that person’s dog. But you’re not consciously taking into account that all these perfect things are coming from distinctly separate people.
Logically, it makes no sense to envy just one aspect of someone’s life. You have to take into account their whole life, including the parts that suck. Maybe the person with the perfect family is so overworked that they don’t time to spend with their kids. The person with looks doesn’t have money or vice versa. The fitness guru is spiritually empty. The seamless feed of Instagram tricks you into mentally stitching everyone together into an attractive, rich, and happy Instaman when actually you were looking at separate people, each with complex difficult lives.
I remember reading about a study where researchers offered participants a hypothetical salary. They had two options (I don’t remember exact numbers, so I made up my own):
- Make $60,000, but your peers are all making $70,000 or…
- Make $50,000, but your peers are all making $40,000
What did people pick? You guessed it–option 2. People would rather be paid less in absolute terms solely because they were making more than their peers. This shows that (1) humans aren’t rational decision-makers, which is a valuable realization in itself, but also (2) we’re relative creatures. There’s no getting around it which makes it all the more important who and what we compare ourselves to.
When the Jones’ become an amalgamation of the globe’s best, we are fighting a losing battle. So how does one fight this battle? You’re not going to like the answer: you don’t. You will lose. You can try to consciously think about how for each image you see, there were 20 bad photos behind it. And how for each #couplegoals picture, there were 19 arguments behind it. But your willpower will run out and you won’t last. You can’t. You’re fighting against multi-billion dollar corporations who hire the world’s best and brightest minds to try and hack your brain. Instaman has an army of engineers with virtually unlimited funding working around the clock to deceive you. You don’t stand a fighting chance because no one does.
So what is there to do? You withdraw. You refuse to fight in this battle. You choose to take your energies elsewhere. You *gasp* get off Instagram, Facebook, and whatever else leads you down a rabbit hole. At best, you delete your accounts. At least, you delete the apps from your phone and block the websites on your computer.
In high school, I had a statistics teacher who for one strange week really liked the song “Say Something”, so he played it in class. On repeat. I can still hear it ringing in my head from time to time. But there’s truth to the lyric: Sometimes the greatest way to say something is to say nothing at all.
Sometimes the best way to win the war is to realize this wasn’t a battle you ever agreed to fight, so maybe it’s time that you exit stage left on this one. Cut your losses, and move on with your life. Trust me, it will be uncomfortable for a little, but your life will be so much better when you’re not constantly comparing yourself to Instaman.