I was taking a walk in Ridgewood capturing pictures of flowers and sending them to one of my close friend. We do this often, our texts are full of things we saw and wanted to share: selfies of us with a terrible sunburn, a snack we enjoyed, a weird-shaped cloud, or a cute new outfit. There are no rules, but there is always a guaranteed meaningful response, simply because of the nature of our friendship. To the flowers, she said, “OH MY! Those are MAGIC! THAT COLOR!” I emphasized the text and responded with, “three blocks from my house, another world. GORGESSAH!” Her responses warm my heart and leave me feeling full of gratitude for our friendship.
Then I had this inclination to post these same images on my Instagram story, to share them with the social media abyss. But lately, I’ve been trying to better recognize when I am seeking validation. Before I put myself out there I now ask myself, “why do I feel the need to share this with the world, and how would it make me feel? Will it make me feel bad if no one responds? Who am I posting for? Why can’t I send it to them directly?”
As I considered posting the flowers to my story, I realized: We should send photos directly to our friends instead of posting them on social media because it sustains this feeling of giving and receiving that creates a deeper connection.
Social media only allows for very surface-level interactions (i.e. a story reply) because there is no direct intention behind who we are posting for, and if there is (i.e. a crush, or someone we need validation from) are we deepening the foundation of our relationships? If we get a response in the form of a heart eye emoji or a few words of text, the dopamine will set in and we’ll feel good for a short time (Burhan & Moradzadeh, 2020), but our lack of true connection will always leave us feeling unfulfilled and wanting more. If they don’t respond, we are often left feeling invalidated and disappointed because we were not received.
So, why does sending a photo directly to someone you have a meaningful relationship with feel so much better? Every relationship in our life should have a flow of giving and receiving. “The point of being aware of the flow of giving and receiving is to be mindful of the abundance in a relationship. The energy must go in both directions (Kasl, 1999).” We can think about this as the pouring from an empty cup analogy. If we were both cups, you and I, each half full, and I poured my water into your cup, you would be full and could pour back into my cup and so on, back and forth. If I kept trying to pour into your cup without you pouring back into mine, I wouldn’t have anything to pour into your cup until you continued the cycle. All this to say, social media is a little bit like pouring out your cup on the cement in late August.
We can also think about our images or posts as gifts, or for the more spiritual person: energy. If you saw something nice and wanted to give it as a gift to someone, you wouldn’t just leave it on the street corner and say, “Up for grabs! Who wants this thing that I want to give to a specific person but I’m just going to leave here for anyone?”
When we leave our gifts up for grabs on street corners or social media platforms (pouring out our cup on the sidewalk), we are sending out our energy into the world without anyone ready to receive it and continue a nurturing cycle, in turn leaving us feeling depleted (cup empty). By sharing directly with the people that matter most to us we can build deeper and more nurturing relationships and start an intentional cycle of reciprocity.
Now I encourage you to experiment: Go take a photo of something you love. Send it directly to a friend. Hell, send it to your crush! Let them know it made you think of them or ask for their opinion. Wait for their response. See how you feel. See how they feel. Make deeper connections.
Burhan, R. & Moradzadeh, J. (2020) Neurotransmitter Dopamine (DA) and its Role in the Development of Social Media Addiction. Journal of Neurology & Neurophysiology. https://www.iomcworld.org/open-access/neurotransmitter-dopamine-da-and-its-role-in-the-development-of-social-media-addiction-59222.html
Kasl, C. (1999) If the Buddha Dated. Penguin Compass.
Nico is a Brooklyn-based multi-medium Bipoc artist whose work focuses on well-being and mental health. She is currently a Spiritual Psychology master’s student at SMBI Columbia University, as well as working to help others improve their well-being through outlets of creativity. IG: @nicoshea_