The Facebook effect: The age of living anxiously

Adrian Ho
Our love affair with social media subconsciously makes us overly preoccupied with our own image that we somehow fail to notice that anxiety has surreptitiously slithered into our lives

There used to be a time when celebrities – those whose lives are in the public eye – were only select and few. Nowadays, anyone who maintains a Facebook profile is subject to public scrutiny and judgment, much like a movie star, a sports icon or a politician.

At a time like this when Facebook likes are an affirmation of our existence and selfies have become an almost acceptable form of identification, aren’t we, in essence, all celebrities?

Each one of us has become our own celebrity in that we have made ourselves public entities by willingly participating and actively engaging in the realm of social media.

The photos that we post on Instagram are our set cards, LinkedIn is our resumé, YouTube videos are our demo reels, blogs are our portfolios, and Facebook profiles are our brand pages.

All our social media accounts bear the image that we like to project to the world.

And with luck, our creative self-marketing just might bring us some level of success in the form of career opportunities, money, power or fame. The possibility, after all, is not far-fetched.

Zero to hero

POWER. Social media has certainly contributed a great deal to making success, at least its generally accepted definitions or criteria, easier and quicker to attain. But at what cost? Image from Shutterstock

YouTube has made an unknown teenager with good looks and musical talents into one Justin Bieber.

On the local front, we have Charice and Journey’s Arnel Pineda who garnered international recognition for their singing prowess, also courtesy of YouTube.

It is also not unlikely that some college dropout in California with a genius combination of tech and marketing savvy is soon poised to become yet another young dot-com billionaire, like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel.

Social media has certainly contributed a great deal to making success, at least its generally accepted definitions or criteria, easier and quicker to attain. And that is arguably a good thing.

But at what cost?

In the current Facebook era, if our carefully packaged image can bring us instant fame, it can also bring us shame.

The reality is such that, as we cautiously tread along cyberspace, one inspired step can make us, but one sudden misstep can also break us.

We are not oblivious to the horrors of social media shaming. Take the case of Rebecca Sedwick, a 12-year-old Florida girl who was cyber-bullied into suicide.

Then there’s Lululemon founder Chip Wilson, whose unfortunate choice of words in a Bloomberg interview prompted his resignation after the video went viral.

Boon and bane

The truth is, embracing social media is like walking on thin ice. Some argue that it’s only good until something bad happens.

We have seen other iterations of people falling victims – deservedly so or otherwise – to such cyber-shaming: celebrities being harassed by online bashers, causing them to respond in ways that are deemed unprofessional or unbecoming of a public figure; a hot-headed civilian with a violent streak bullying an MMDA traffic enforcer; an MRT patron tongue-lashing a security guard; more celebrities scandalized with the spread of their leaked sex videos; and, more famously, popular politicos accused of public funds thievery.

On the one hand, social media is already considered a modern-day necessity for many of us because of the conveniences it allows. On the other, it can also cause our downfall.

While the prospect of achieving success by engaging in social media brings us undeniable excitement, the possibility of imminent ruin is also a cause for worries and fears.

Living anxiously

Our love affair with social media has subconsciously made us overly preoccupied with our own image that we have somehow failed to notice that anxiety has surreptitiously slithered into our lives.

Without really realizing it, we have, in fact, reached the age of living anxiously.

In 2012, a study conducted by the Salford Business School at the University of Salford for Anxiety UK has found that technology, particularly the use of smartphones, computers and mobile apps, as well as exposure to social media, has led to increased levels of anxiety.

Anxiety UK CEO Nicky Lidbetter shares, “If you are predisposed to anxiety it seems that the pressures from technology act as a tipping point, making people feel more insecure and more overwhelmed.” 

For many of us, social media is already a big part of our daily grind, our way to connect to the rest of the world, an easy and practical way to feel that we belong.

Opting out of it somehow feels like a step backwards, a cowardly move, not being in tune with the times. Or is it?

Our own brands

Perhaps there is a way to properly manage this dichotomous situation.

Since we have somehow become “experts” in branding and marketing ourselves, who’s stopping us now from becoming our own trouble-shooters? Is there now a need to channel our inner Olivia Pope?

Must we now equip ourselves with sufficient PR savvy, much like Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, whose reference to their separation as “conscious uncoupling” managed to turn a sad reality – such as the separation of a seemingly perfect husband and wife – into something hopeful, positive and almost aspirational?

The couple’s fastidiously crafted statement, which appeared on Gwyneth’s website Goop, romanticized their “uncoupling” ever-so-slyly that it undermined the misfortune of their separation and projected instead an image of them as the apotheosis of a wise and mature couple, perfectly calm and collected amidst a time of distress.

Some were inspired by their statement, but some were also irked, deeming it disingenuous and pretentious. Nonetheless, whether or not it triumphed in preserving their status as celebrities is immaterial.

The point is this: they know the fame game and they play it as judiciously as possible. The whole “conscious uncoupling” proclamation says it loud and clear: their image is, without a doubt, of immense value.

But it’s not just Gwyneth and Chris.

It is the case for many of us who meticulously word our tweets, who Photoshop our pictures before we post them on Instagram and who spend ridiculous amounts of time choosing the perfect font for our personal blogs.

We are living in an age that has compelled us to be our own brands. And because of the fickle nature of social media, this age is also asking us now to be our own crisis managers.

Social media is a powerful tool that can amplify both our successes and our failures with just one click of a button. It is a power that technology has, yet again, so generously placed in our hands.

And that makes us all giddy. More so now than ever. – Rappler.com

Adrian Ho is a Filipino-Canadian writer and blogger based in Manila. His writings have also appeared in WhenInManila.com, Asia Property Report and HELM Superyacht Asia Pacific. You may visit his blog at theblogditto.com and engage with him on Twitter or Instagram: mightyaid.

iSpeak is a parking space for ideas worth sharing. Send in your contributions to move.ph@rappler.com.

Social media vector image via Shutterstock