Another extract from my conspicuous experience work for Viewpoint, this time looking at the downside…
With experience-driven consumption becoming the new status marker, social media, from Facebook to Instagram has become the shop window for people to sell the idea of their fabulous lives. But while consumers may feel relieved of the pressure to buy physical status symbols, they feel increasingly pressurised to showcase perfect lifestyles and experiences.
I share, therefore I am
Social media has helped shift the pursuit of experience from something personal and even spiritual to a trading card in the game of one-upmanship. And as people increasingly live online, the version of their lives that they choose to share on social networks can shape how others see them and how they see themselves too.
“Facebook has become a place where we brag”, says Nataly Kogan, founder of positivity-based social network Happier.com. “Our social circles on there are so vast and diverse, people feel like they’re on stage on Facebook”. According to a 2012 JWT survey, three quarters of US and UK consumers feel people use social media to brag about their lives, while nearly 6 in 10 felt that it was important that their social media presence conveyed a certain image about them – what the New Yorker calls a “casual predominance of personal branding”. Instagram alone has over 90m photos with hashtag #me – with a further 23m with the ultimate identity hashtag #selfie.
With each brag, each filtered and curated experience posted online, consumers may aim to show off their lovely lives and boost their status, but they’re creating angst too. Kogan says “It makes sense that when people compare their own real life to others’ shiny, curated posts, they feel bad. While consumers know the effort that goes into creating their own perfected image of their awesome lifestyle and experiences, this knowledge deserts them when looking at others’ images.
A study by researchers at two German universities shows that social media can be a minefield of insecurity and envy. Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction found that a third of people felt worse about their lives after visiting Facebook, especially after viewing others’ holiday photos or their social interactions and “likes”. The report also found that men and women tried to make their lives look better on Facebook by highlighting their personal achievements, social lives and their looks, but this can generate an “envy spiral” as people try to out-do each other with increasingly glowing images of their lifestyles.
A US survey by NBC’s Today show found that even Pinterest creates feelings of failure among women, who feel unable to live up to the perfect homes, crafts and kids’ parties that they see showcased on the site. 42% of mothers are stressed by trying to live up to these images of perfect family life, while the pressure to take pictures of every important family experience causes stress for 83%. Indeed, Kogan believes that rather than simply enjoying experiences, consumers are focusing on how they’ll look to their social network: “Instead of looking at that beautiful sunrise or tasting that delicious dinner, they’re trying to capture it for social media.”
Consumers are beginning to question the way that sharing an experience can get in the way of experiencing it. Kogan believes “There is a focus shift towards appreciating what’s actually happening in our lives, not curating an epic version of it online”. One way to achieve this is for social media to stop getting in the way of enjoying experiences. A recent campaign by McCann Australia (under the guise of graduate Alex Haigh) encourages people to stop “phubbing” – “the act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention”. The website StopPhubbing.com suggests that the average restaurant will see 36 cases of phubbing per dining session, with the majority of phubbers using their phones to make status updates. My Phone Is Off For You aims to counteract the problem of distracted smartphone users, by wrapping smartphones in a “phonekerchief” that blocks network service. Spanish phone network Movistar has launched an app called app I Off You that helps people enjoy mobile-free time with their nearest and dearest. Users activate an “enjoy” button when they want downtime, and if anyone reaches for their handset, an alarm sounds, demanding that the phone be left on the table.
The jury is still out on whether wearable technology like Google Glass can allow consumers to capture their experiences without detracting from them – several fashion insiders wore them during the spring/summer 2014 catwalk shows, but the technology is not yet seamless enough to allow recording and sharing without fiddling with the mechanism. Instead, the new wave of wearable cameras, such as the Narrative Clip or The Autographer, quietly capture moments of the user’s day at regular intervals, creating a more realistic representation of their experiences. Kogan also points to ephemeral photo messaging service Snapchat as an example of sharing true moments as they happen, without the filter of trying to perfect one’s identity.
While experts expect the drive for experiences to continue to grow, the way they are recorded and showcased is changing. The drive to keep up with the virtual Joneses may be a part of online living, but services that empower people to share what their lives are really like and allow people to connect in a more real way, could help conspicuous experience gain a new level of authenticity – and power.
Images from top: Happier.com; Planet Fitness No Pintimidation campaign; My Phone Is Off For You phonekerchief