I Am Not the Sum of My Algorithm

April 14, 2014

Caroline Donofrio Hello Im Flawed social media iphone evil

Hey! Good people of the internet! Want to hear a secret?

I hate social media.

There, I said it. I feel so much better now.

Seriously, though: how much worse have all our lives gotten since the norm became documenting our every waking everything and then sharing with the rest of the world? How easy has it become to compare ourselves to everyone else, to measure our own perceived successes against the yardstick of other peoples’ shiniest moments? And how many hours have been swallowed, as we sit bathed by the light of our phones?

The (negative) effects of social media are well documented. I’m not an expert on either social media or self-esteem, though I’ve dedicated a decent amount of brainpower to both. But just for fun, I’m going to shimmy out on a limb here and suggest that while sensory overload is challenging for all of us, it might be a little less fun for the ladies.

The world has long hurled a lot of mixed messages at women. You know the ones. They tell you to stay home while telling you to lean in. They talk about choices while simultaneously judging you for the ones you’ve made. They lump words like feminism, strong, sexy, powerful, farm-raised, locally sourced, gluten-free and Beyoncé in the same terrifying sentence and then expect you to decode it without somehow becoming insane.

Enter social media. An uncharted universe where comparing yourself to friends, strangers, and supermodels has never been easier. The “popular” page on Instagram looks a lot like an advertisement for a boob farm or a naked yoga retreat, which are two places I’d rather not visit today. Thank goodness there are usually some puppies thrown in there.

I’ll admit, though, sometimes it’s hard not to just post a boob and see what happens. It seems like a valid social experiment. Does exploitation equal popularity? Does popularity equal power? I never follow through with it because, you know, dignity. But still, I wonder.

Social media can sometimes feel a wee bit like getting ambushed. This is what my Instagram feed looks like on a regular basis:

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Please note that all of these images appeared within a three day span. I promise you that constant exposure to other peoples’ large diamonds on the cusp of my thirtieth birthday does not make me fun to live with.

So what’s a gal to do?

Let’s say the answer was as simple as non-participation. Let’s say I simply deleted all my social accounts. Would that solve the problem?

No. Because I’d still need email. And even my Google ads are sexist and mean.

My Google ads are like the algorithmic equivalent of an evil high school boy who knows to poke you right where it hurts. (I’m talking to you, Matthew-who-told-me-I-had-a-mustache.) Recent examples include “Vintage engagement rings!” “Ultimate bachelorette party!” and my personal favorite “Plastic surgery! 30% off liposuction!” They taunt me from my sidebar, despite the fact that I have not recently (or ever) trolled the internet in search of engagement rings, questionable entertainment, or a revamped midsection.

There’s a quote that’s been haunting me lately: “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.” I want to have deeper discussions and foster more inspiration, and I can’t help but feel like social media makes this harder. It can be uninspiring, and encourages even more of the mindless chatter I’d like to cut back on.

Maybe my scones will never look as nice as your scones, food stylist I follow. Maybe I will never do a naked backbend on a large seaside rock, like you can, popular yogi. Maybe I still get excited when I get more than 11 “likes” on any one photo. Maybe this does not make me a bad person.

The thing is, I’m content with all the beautiful moments that happen behind closed doors. I don’t want to feel like the proverbial tree in the forest, falling over and over but never making a sound. If no one sees photographic evidence of my good day, did I still have a good day? Yes. Maybe an even better day, uninterrrupted by the endless flow of images, pithy captions and self-imposed judgments.

Am I alone in feeling this way? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Caroline Donofrio Hello Im Flawed social media instagram iphone bite

P.S. Follow me on Instagram! Kidding. Sort of.

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  • Woah. Wait a tick. Do you mean to tell me that Social Media geared towards pithy, frequent posts can be a superficial means of communication?!? And that sometimes scrolling through Instagram isn’t as informative as say, reading The New Yorker?!?

  • Wow. I couldn’t not have said it better. “comparing yourself to friends, strangers, and supermodels has never been easier.” Love love love.

  • Caroline, thank you so much for this thoughtful and honest post — so very true for me, too. You put it so well. For me as a phd student, I am too often reminded of how much “fun” i’m missing out on in my 20’s during my perusal of social media and it just leaves me feeling down. I try to remember that what i see on others’ posts is all very selective and to not let that specter of comparison creep in too much — and when it does, just unfriend or unfollow those ones… Anyway, thank you. also, it’s so refreshing to read your blog post without anyone trying to sell me something! : )


  • I really enjoyed your post. Comparison is said to be a thief of joy (by Teddy Roosevelt.. I think) and social media is definitely a constant platform for comparison, which I end up obsessively and compulsively scrolling through each day. I always come away with obsessing over people including myself, and like myself a little less each time.. a sabbatical is due. Thank you for this thoughtful post.

  • Caroline, I stumbled upon this post (and your entire blog) at just the right time in my life. Overwhelmed by Instagram and by prospects of creating an authentic life that feels (instead of merely looks) good, I share in your above sentiments and all that you’re promoting via this honest space. Thanks for articulating this and being really real! I’m so glad to find you.

  • yes yes and yes.

  • Well said. I deleted my Facebook account a bit over a year ago, in the midst of my divorce, feeling as if, unlike the rest of Facebook, I had nothing to brag about.
    I think the straw that broke the camel’s back was the moms. The brags about their children, development milestones, etc., began to feed into anxiety about my own son and how HE compared! Comparing oneself to others is inevitable, but I won’t do it to my son.
    I kept Instagram, but I follow only a few and try to be mindful of how self-promoting posts, no matter how “wonderful” I want my life to appear, can make others feel. I know you wrote this awhile ago, but I saw it just today. I love your blog!

  • From people’s reactions, you’d think I’m the last person alive who doesn’t have data on her phone. Maybe I am, but I strongly stand by it. I still have a Facebook account and I will hold onto it because, for everything that’s wrong with it, it’s helped me stay in touch with many friends spread out all over the world. But do I really need to be access to my newsfeed at all times? If I take a picture and want to share it, does it have to be RIGHT NOW? Probably not. I prefer to enjoy the moment and look at people a little bit more (even if they’re still looking at their screens)…

  • Word!

    God, social media. I keep an Instagram account because it somehow seems less personal to me, but I deleted (er, should I say, “deactivated”) my Facebook account 4 months ago and have hardly thought of it since. At times I wonder what that girl-I-knew-in-junior-high-but-haven’t-talked-to-since-2004 named her baby, but I let myself wonder for a moment before the question flits off, as ponderings are wont to do. Ah, yes, WHAT IT IS TO WONDER! Rarely do I feel seized by something that only Facebook could show me (important stuff still gets to me, like through smoke signals and telegrams). At this point, what amazes me most is how little I’ve missed it. Like, really? After a NINE YEAR relationship with Facebook?

    I found your blog by way of your break-up tips on CoJ (which is great, by the way), and am pretty happy to find a female voice that is strong (as in, you seem self-aware and assured, but also as in you have your prose locked doooown), funny and real (like Joanna!). I rarely comment on blogs (even though I too am a blogaholic), because I can never decide whether it’s creepy or considerate (I’m gonna go with considerate, given the circumstances), but I felt compelled to encourage you to keep doing what your doing. Get em.

  • I’m with you. I appreciate your honesty and it feels better to know that there is someone as successful as you feel the same way as I do about social media. I agree that social media makes it harder to have deeper discussions. Such a dilemma. Beautifully written and thanks for sharing!!

  • Awesome article. Inspires me to leave all my social media.

    • Oh, how true this is. – I know I am late in reading this post, but I am so glad to have read your thoughts. This is the battle I seem to face over and over again. For three years I was off of Facebook and all social media because of the exact reasons you expressed. Then I started a business in marketing/communication and felt pressured to “get with the times” so I could help my customers communicate with their customers. This is a constant struggle – to feel like I have to know what is going on, and thus participate in the social media world, and hate it because of how consuming it quickly becomes. Anyhow, all this to say, I love this post, and I love reading your thoughts. So glad to have found your blog and I hope you keep writing and continue to share your honest take on things. I can relate in so many ways! The one thing I may hate most is this internal pressure to post something and make it look perfect and then come up with the perfect description. Augh, let me be flawed. 😉

  • Couldn’t agree more! I have a blog, where I write out loud because I love writing, but I am all for NOT living out loud and my facebook is quite sadly bare! Ps great blog love it! 🙂

  • You have written exactly how I feel about social media. Thanks so much for this post. I’m so glad I’m not alone in this! Maadz xo

  • Just stumbled upon this…and wow, it perfectly sums up everything I’ve been thinking about lately. And I can’t help but wonder (cue Carrie Bradshaw voice) what it’s going to be like for the next generation of women. Because we didn’t “grow up” with social media, we have those blessed years to compare THESE Instagram-filtered years to, but I have a feeling our daughters and granddaughters won’t have that luxury. Scary times! Keep on writing, lady!

  • This made me giggle! So true. I really wanna share this on Facebook!
    Love your style by the way.