Social Media is a Lie

Today we have a story, a lesson, and a plea.

The Story

I live in an apartment building with a roof deck. Our roof has a clear view to the horizon in the west.

Because of this, on many evenings I will grab a book or a podcast (or nothing at all) and sit on the roof to take in the sunset.

The sunset from our roof, as captured by my lovely and talented wife.
The sunset from our roof, as captured by my lovely and talented wife.

Recently, I was on the roof listening to a podcast (this excellent Mad Fientist podcast with Mr. Money Mustache, Paula Pant, and Doug Nordman) and watching the sun set when a young woman came out onto the roof with a glass of wine.

She had the right idea. It was quiet and peaceful with a magnificent view. It’s not easy to find that type of relaxing atmosphere in the city.

She took a seat and then took out her phone. She proceeded to take a picture of her wine glass and the sunset. She looked at the picture and, apparently not liking it, tried again, this time holding the glass at a much more uncomfortable looking angle.

This went on for around three minutes. Then she sat back, satisfied, and uploaded her photo.

The sun continued its downward journey, but this woman did not lift her eyes from the phone. Once the photo was uploaded she just had to see the reactions to it. She had to interact with the people that commented. She had to see what other people were posting.

Her head was buried in her phone for the entire setting of the sun. I got up and went back to my apartment once it was fully dark outside. She was still tapping away on her phone.

The Lesson

Teddy Roosevelt is believed to have said that “comparison is the thief of joy.” This is doubly true on social media, where “we’re comparing our behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel.”

You see the pictures that your friend posts from her amazing vacations, but you don’t see the many nights she skipped going out to dinner to be able to afford them.

You see the constant check-ins from your friend who is hitting up different bars every night and living it up, but you don’t see how much he hates his 9 to 5.

Social media allows people to share the parts of their lives that they want to share. It allows them to paint their lives in the best light. You see the good parts, but not the bad. When you are jealous of someone’s beautiful house or someone else’s extravagant trips, you don’t see the sacrifices and trade-offs that they made to get that beautiful house or those extravagant trips.

Maybe if you knew the whole picture you would prefer the choices you’ve made, the things you have, and the trips you’ve taken.

Or maybe they’re not even taking the time to enjoy that sunset that they posted.

Stop comparing your behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlight reel.

The Plea

Be present.


Try to dedicate your attention to the moment in which you currently reside.

I know that I am not always the best at this, but I am trying to get better and I think we all could try to be a little better at this.

“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
― Lao Tzu

Let’s all try to spend some more time living in the present. Put down the phone. Enjoy the sunset.


18 thoughts on “Social Media is a Lie”

  1. “Maybe if you knew the whole picture you would prefer the choices you’ve made, the things you have, and the trips you’ve taken.” I think this is so true! Mr. Mt just bought a beautiful classic car. Everyone seems to notice, mention or want to talk about it. But we haven’t had cable in 12 years. That alone easily paid for the car. I could just tell people if they want a gorgeous car, just never have cable again. But I am sure they are happy with their choices, like we are happy with ours.

  2. Great post, Matt! I don’t care for social media on a personal level. In fact, I quit FB for years before starting my blog. Now I’m on it more than ever, but since I don’t use personal accounts, I don’t get all of the photos and stories about how everyone’s life is going. Social media is the classic “keeping up with the Joneses” medium.

    1. Thanks! Sounds like you have a solid setup going on. I have deleted Facebook from my phone so that I don’t just spend time on it absentmindedly while I’m waiting around or commuting, but I still probably spend more time on it than I should at the computer.

  3. Nice post Matt – I completely agree, it’s crazy how little people are in the moment..and just want to show off instead. I think 1 or 2 pictures are good so you can remember it for later, but don’t ruin your experience with it.

    That’s why Instagram / Facebook etc are so dangerous if you ‘want’ what you’re seeing – it’s one image that’s probably be set up just to look good – like your lady. I don’t really use FB except occasionally to see what family are up to.


    1. Thanks, Tristan. I used to be a “never take pictures” person, but the happiness research actually agrees with you that a picture or two that allows you to look back and remember the experience is the ideal for squeezing the most happiness out of experiences.

  4. I love the story telling that you present in each article.

    “Try to dedicate your attention to the moment in which you currently reside.”

    With a child that is one years old I am really trying hard to soak up every minute with him. I know this won’t last forever so I am trying to be as present as possible with the moments I have now.

  5. Social media propels people to think that 1. the grass is greener on the other side and 2. that they need to “keep up with the Joneses” to be happy. Yet, as you stated, social media followers only see the surface of the poster’s life. No one is going to continue to post about a bad day, or their marital issues, debt struggles or the struggles their children are having in school. That stuff is not fun to dwell on, and no one wants to portray that they do not have their life together.

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