Who posts things about fitness on Instagram? Influencers: people who are quite confident in their appearance, spend a lot of time making the most of their appearance, and spend all day getting a few choice shots. Off-screen, these people spend hours and hours of getting ready for those 2 seconds.
What do you post on Facebook? One shot that makes your family/life/job look perfect. You know: you’re picking blueberries; no one is fighting. Anyone can get a few good shots like that every year.
All of us—from fitness influencers on Instagram and berry-picking families on Facebook—post things for a few main reasons, one of which is that we want people to think of us in a certain way.
In one of the most famous papers on the topic, “Self-presentation 2.0: Narcissism and Self-esteem on Facebook,” researchers write “Correlation analyses revealed that individuals higher in narcissism and lower in self-esteem were related to greater online activity as well as some self-promotional content.” Elsewhere, in a paper on “Why people use Facebook”: “Neuroticism, narcissism, shyness, self-esteem and self-worth contribute to the need for self-presentation.” More recently: “Agreeableness, conscientiousness, and self-liking were negatively associated with Instagram addiction.” (source) There’s also a trait called “friendship contingent self-esteem.”
You might recognize this as someone who appears to have an awesome life… until you, say, go on vacation with them and realize that they spend nearly their entire vacation taking photos and posting about how awesome their vacation is. Personally, when I’m in Mexico I like to have lots of memories about Mexico.
In a nutshell, people who post LOOK AT THE AWESOME LIFE I HAVE usually depend on getting validation and feedback to feel good about themselves. Rule of thumb: there are only so many hours in a day; every hour you’re posting about your awesome life is an hour you’re not having an awesome life—you’re not fully immersed in the world, working on yourself, working on a project, reading a book, laughing at yourself getting lost… all of the things that actually make people awesome.
If not for the ego boost, for the highlight reel
So we might not always realize why we’re posting the good stuff. But most of it has to do with how we want to be seen, and how we want other people to think of us.
If Instagram makes you feel ugly, productivity porn makes you feel lazy
So, who posts things about productivity tools on YouTube? People who want others to think of them as productive. But the difference is that they’re at least trying to be helpful. So they get love from me. But while they get love—productivity gurus are also likely to make other people think that their lives are subpar.
We know all about how social media can make our lives feel “less than”: we’re comparing our reality (sweatpants, Netflix) to other people’s highlight reel. Sadly, this direction-of-comparison effect is now affecting people’s professional lives.
We’re awash with things that splinter our attention—you know, like social media. To correct this, we’re in an age of productivity porn. Getting Things Done, the Pomodoro Technique, Cal Newport’s Deep Work, anything by Tim Ferriss… we crave browser extensions, books, and frameworks to put us back on track. We need to find the best way to use our time. So we hear about intermittent fasting, CrossFit, yoga, Keto—desperate for answers.
The perfect schedule
Online you’ll find no shortage of people bragging about the perfect tool to use, the ideal workflow, and all of the health and work tips and tricks. The perfect schedule looks something like:
- 6am: wake up
- 6-6:30am: meditate
- 6:30am: run 3 miles
- 7am: shower/self-care
- 7:30am: write and publish a blog post
- 8:30am: receive an email from the editor of The New Yorker, who read your blog post and wants to hire you
- 8:35am: contract negotiations with The New Yorker
- 9:30am-11:45am: give a presentation for sundry Vice Presidents at Google/Alphabet as a part of your highly-paid consulting job
- CrossFit? Read fiction? Walk your dog? (No one online seems to have to pay bills, clean their bathroom, or buy groceries)
My actual schedule
- 7:45am: get woken up by my dog
- 8-9am: get pulled around my condo complex by my dog
- 9-9:30am: watch Suits while drinking coffee
- 9:30am-10:30am: Zoom call with mentee
- 10:55am: leave for dentist
- 11am – 12:30pm: get my gums scraped, yelled at for failure to have perfect dental hygiene. Make appointment for crown on Friday
- 1pm: take out dog for a walk
- 3pm: have Sloppy Joe’s with my family
- 9pm: pay taxes online