Life Lessons from Social Media

I’ve been thinking a lot about social media lately. I truly have a love hate relationship with the medium. I love how it can be used for good – spreading messages of joy, sharing calls to action and inciting people to work together. I hate how I can wile away hours, aimlessly scrolling and not even realize it. I hate the false pretenses of it – the comparison factor that it highlights.

I remember over ten years ago, sitting at work hearing some of my much younger coworkers talking about Facebook. I hadn’t made the leap into Facebook at that point and I didn’t really understand it. Peer pressure, the good kind, finally made me take the leap.

This was a pivotal moment for me because I felt “old”. The concept behind setting up my profile and adding bits and pieces of my life to it was just strange. I had to tuck my tail between my legs and ask one of my friends, who was one of those younger coworkers, to help me set it all up. I felt ridiculous.

Even as I write this, I’m astounded. Facebook has become a life line for me. That sentence, while it seems somewhat sad, is also true. Not only do I often access it without even thinking, but I’ve used it to connect, reconnect and communicate with so many.

Without Facebook, our journey with Rylie while in the hospital and beyond would have looked very different. The fact that we were able to journal and share updates and perspectives with so many has been pivotal in our healing process. It has helped Rylie’s ARK grow and impact people beyond my wildest imagination. For that, I am grateful.

Yet, ten years ago it confounded me. It challenged every notion I had of connection and sharing.

Then three or four years ago, Instagram entered the picture (for me). I’m always a little behind the times on these things…

Rylie was the impetus behind Instagram. She wanted an account – she was dying for an account. Complete with “Come on Mom, all my friends have it” sessions. As a lover of words, I didn’t really understand the point of just scrolling through pretty pictures. As a mom of an almost teen and a teacher of young adults, I saw the potential for disaster. After all, one picture could ruin a person’s life.

I just didn’t get it. Eventually Rylie wore me down and we crafted a deal. She could have Instagram, but I had rights to her phone at any moment in time.

The real issue, however, was that I didn’t really understand Instagram and wasn’t sure how best to monitor her usage. After sitting through numerous don’t do anything stupid; what you put online is there forever lectures, Rylie set up her profile and account.

I’d spend time each day having her show me what she was looking at (the word following wasn’t even in my vocabulary, at least not in that sense of the word). Even as I watched her scroll and work to find the perfect picture to take, I couldn’t wrap my brain around it.

In the month or two prior to her death, I started seeing Instagram more and more in my world. I started to realize that it was going to be kind of like Facebook – eventually I’d have to jump in. So I took the opportunity to have Rylie teach me.

She would giggle hysterically every time I’d ask a question. After the second or third time of asking, she’d just get downright annoyed. She didn’t have a place in her brain to understand why it was so hard for me to understand. In true Rylie spirit though, she’d put up with me.

Rylie did more Instagram stalking than actual posting, but I began to notice how she would look at things differently. She started to think about how she could frame something for a photo.

I respected that because it’s the same way I consider an idea and think about how I can frame it in words, but I still didn’t get it.

Over Spring Break, just a month before the accident we went to Great Wolf Lodge. Rylie recruited me to capture the perfect image for her Instagram post. She loved the lantern style lights in our room and she wanted to put a heart around it to capture the essence of our trip. So she made a heart with her hands, and I was instructed on camera angles and distance. I must have taken twenty pictures before she found one that satisfied her.

Perfect Instagram Shot

Then around Easter, ten days before the accident, we went for a walk along a creek. We ventured into the creek a bit and again Rylie wanted to capture the perfect shot. I was recruited to take a photo of her sitting looking out over the water in a very meditative position. Again, it took forever to get the shot she was looking for.

Beauty of Instagram
The winning shot of Rylie meditating at the creek.

I tried so hard during that time to understand how the platform worked. I didn’t love the idea of taking pictures right on Instagram, but everytime I took a picture using my camera, I’d struggle to get it to upload properly.

When Rylie did the lantern light picture, I made her show me over and over again how it all worked. Hello old person!! Still I struggled.

After Rylie died I jumped off the Instagram wagon. It was still beyond my comprehension and my teacher wasn’t there to help. Tanner wasn’t using it yet, and he doesn’t have the patience that Rylie did on those types of things.

Over a year later, I decided I needed to figure out Instagram if the influence of Rylie’s ARK was going to continue to grow and have an impact. At this point, Tanner had convinced me to get Instagram and he had the same stipulations with an added one of helping me. The problem, he really just consumes content rather than creating it. So he hasn’t been much help.

Needless to say, I’ve grown a lot in the Instagram / Social Media world. I still struggle with aspects of Instagram. Instagram Stories aren’t my friend, but I’m trying. I’m continuing the trend of being an “old person,” but I’m finally embracing YouTube as a method of teaching me all sorts of fun things including tips / tricks for social media.

The other day, I was sitting down and doing some work on our Rylie’s ARK social media calendar – considering content and messaging. I was struck by how much has changed in three years. I couldn’t help but think about how Rylie would react. Would she be proud of me? Would she just roll her eyes and think, About time, Mom… Now, how about TikTok? Would she be annoyed that I “plan” content? I’m pretty sure it would be a combination of those things.

Regardless, as I look back at my growth and the way my perspectives and understandings have changed in the past three to ten years as it relates to social media, I can’t help but wonder how our perspectives and understandings will change as it relates to the impact of this current pandemic.

Is it weird to compare social media to a pandemic, maybe, but I think there’s some interesting parallels. I was terrified of the unknown world of social media. I didn’t understand what a profile was on Facebook. I couldn’t wrap my head around why I would share pictures and stories from my everyday life. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would care enough to give me a thumbs up or actually comment.

In my early days of Facebook, very few of those things happened, mostly because the idea of building a following was so foreign. So scary. So different.

Then Instagram rocked my world. It wasn’t about stories, at least ones with words, anymore. It was about images and clever captions. It was about hearts instead of thumbs. It seemed so self-promoting which by default felt self-effacing. I couldn’t wrap my head around how to get an image to post because I was too nervous to do real time photos (that’s probably not even the right word, but…). I couldn’t wrap my head around anything in my life being worth looking at.

My early days of Instagram, and I’m still pretty much a novice, have been scary. I still can’t get behind the whole selfie thing. Talk about weird and awkward. Everytime I think about it, I feel like there should be a voice over playing: “Let’s pause this really good memory so that I can capture it in just the right light and just the right angle instead of enjoying it!”

But from both of those new, challenging, scary platforms and situations, good has come. It’s taken making mistakes and getting through the hard stuff, but I’ve learned a lot. Instagram has made me a better writer or at least editor. Enter, limiting oneself to 2200 characters – yikes! While I don’t usually pause life to capture Instagram or Facebook worthy photos, I am more aware and see moments in life that are beautiful and could be beautifully captured.

I recognize that the connections I made through social media over the years gave me the incredible community that has carried us through some of the hardest times imaginable.

While a pandemic isn’t social media, and I’m not trying to downplay it, I recognize parallels. This pandemic is also scary. It has made us all vulnerable. It’s something we’ve never navigated. Do we have YouTube videos to help us “learn” how to get through a pandemic? Not really, but there are really smart people out there that can help us navigate if we let them. There are also Average Joes with creative minds that will rock our world with their approach to combating these challenges.

As I’ve ventured into social media, there has been a lot of learning. I’ve had to adapt my thinking. I’ve had to build new skills. And then, just when I think I’ve gotten it figured out, something changes. So I start again. I build new skills. I ask for help. I adapt my thinking. I search for the beauty in the mess of something new. I practice resilience and try again.

As we venture into the newness of a pandemic world, I think it’s important to practice this type of resilience on a greater scale. We have to embrace our community in a new way. We have to get creative. We have to lean into each other from a distance. We are being forced to think differently and try differently – but isn’t that a beautiful gift that is emerging from the mess?

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