The contrast between her life and death was striking. The pretty, successful Public relations manager at a renowned firm, happily married, mother of two, found lying in a night club, dying of a likely drug overdose. To those who know her, Manisha had it all. This was just unbelievable!
One look at her Facebook page, at least what it was till last Saturday, was enough to induce envy in almost anyone. Her exhaustive photo album was wow! She was photogenic, a socialite, well-traveled and sort of a style icon. The album where she celebrates her 38th birthday at a fancy resort with her ‘loving husband,’ she writes: “Look at us… having fun, young at heart couple!
Of the several comments that follow, one reads: “Wow! A match made in heaven!”
There are photos of Manisha sailing in oversized vintage sunglasses, on vacation in Mauritius, partying in Singapore, some other times swathed in a thick spa robe and, other times, having a candlelight dinner at the city’s plushest rooftop bistro. Then there are photos of her with two adorable, beaming children, her stylized interiors, and her overdone life — at least on Facebook — seemed to be filled with bliss such that everything’s so perfect – nothing can go wrong!
Manisha, as was found later, had been a severe victim of depression and subsequently of misfortune. But we cannot blame her alone. Today, the gap between the person we are and the person we present to the world has become wider – at times a world apart.
With social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram lingering around us, most of us are living two lives – one online, and the other offline. And studies show that this makes us more vulnerable to depression, loneliness and low self-worth.
Of course I don’t mean to degrade social media. It’s everywhere, its unavoidable, it’s amazing too, but it’s disruptive. It’s like the machines, robots and everything that’s fantastic – but only when they are under our control.
Last year, scientists at two German universities monitored nearly 600 Facebook users and found one out of three would feel worse after checking what their friends were up to — especially if those friends had just posted vacation photos.
The research authors inferred, “shared content does not have to be ‘explicitly boastful’ for feelings of envy to emerge. In fact, a lonely user might envy numerous birthday wishes his more sociable peer receives on his Facebook wall. Equally, a friend’s change in the relationship status from ‘single’ to ‘in a relationship’ might cause emotional havoc for someone undergoing a breakup.”
An article published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology in August 2015 quoted psychologist Leon Festinger, who, in 1954, came up with “social comparison theory,” where he mentioned the idea that we measure ourselves in relation to others’ failures and successes.
This is a problem, especially with the millennial moms who are mostly rattled by the pressures of social media. A friend of mine, who is a student councilor and a mother of two regretted the other day we met for coffee, “There is an anti-social media movement going on in social media…, especially for young moms, who are feeling anxious to present a perfect life . . . this often creates annoyance and depression.”
The idea came to me too when my niece, in her early-twenties, who did not get selected for her college dance program told me how miserable she felt. She logged on to Facebook the very next day and saw all those pictures of her friends at the dance, and that actually made her feel worse than not being invited… she even thought of attempting suicide.
Everyone is looking for a ‘perfect life’ on social media. As a candid aunt in my neighbourhood said, “my ‘real’ life is actually pretty boring,” but her 1480 followers and 1600 friends would never know it.
In fact she once confessed, “I have a side of my apartment that I photograph, and it’s perfect. The other side is always a mess,” she said. “I know I have to maintain my image . . . I realize though how insane it all is.”
Reality can be easily distorted with the help of social media. Zilla Van Den Born, a 25 year-old girl from Amsterdam, told her friends and family she was planning on traveling around Asia for five weeks. Her parents excitedly waved goodbye to their daughter at the airport, whom they thought was about to embark on her journey throughout Asia. Little did they know that their daughter would in fact not be heading to Asia, but secretly staying in another house in Amsterdam. The Dutch student uploaded photoshopped pictures of herself in Asia, posted pictures of exotic food, and even skyped in front of a fake background in order to convince her friends and family that she was in Asia.
This web of lies Van Den Born created was not out of spite nor in order take a vacation from her friends and family; the young student had a goal. She tricked her loved ones for a graduation project. Her idea was to show that social media can distort reality. She proved that social media is not always real, and people can choose how others perceive them by what they choose to post online.
Often wondered, instead of getting entangled in a web of lies, why can’t we take steps to improve our real life so that our virtual life follows suit… As Marcus Aurelius, the good Roman emperor, best known for his meditations on Stoic philosophy, observed: “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”