I am the problem with social media

A while back I made a Facebook post that garnered a lot of attention from my network. The caption read, “I told my 6 y.o. if she got to 500 on her reading log before the end of the school year, I’d let her cut my hair. So this happened…”


That was followed by half a dozen pictures of an adorable little girl in a pink dress making funny faces while applying electric clippers to my head and face. The series of pictures culminated in head shots of me sans-beard and sporting a mohawk.

How can you not react to that, right?

Based on the reaction, it was hard not to believe that I was the undisputed father of the year. At least for the 48 hours that the post lasted on people’s newsfeeds.

But then I realized I had just contributed to the very thing I hate about social media.

Because here’s the deal: It wasn’t the promise of giving Dad a mohawk that got my girl to read books almost every day. In fact, I had very little at all to do with her being one of the top readers in her class. No, that credit belongs mostly to her mother. Getting a six-year-old to forsake Spongebob long enough to read three books a day takes a lot of encouragement, persistence, insistence, cajoling, bargaining, bribing with popsicles, arguing, fighting, crying, slamming doors, apologizing, and more than a little snuggling in the easy chair reading yet another edition of Pig the Pug.

But nobody sees that part of our lives. Nor would anybody care.

Yet that’s the majority of our day. The mundane, routine stuff sprinkled with moments of sweetness, intellectual progress, and love – lots of it – expressed in both chair cuddles and an insistence on adding another entry into the reading log.

Our social media feeds are filled with snapshots of those perfect moments, of those rare times when everything goes right, of the things that we know will illicit a response from our network.

Like a 40-year-old dad with a mohawk.

Exposed over and over and over to these images, we’re tricked into believing that those moments are the norm for everyone else. Then we put the phone down and fight with our kids about getting their homework done, or with our spouse about how dinner didn’t look like what we saw on Instagram, or how our finances don’t afford us the luxury of going to Hawaii like apparently all of our other friends get to.

Or, in my case, how every 12-year-old seems to be a better turkey hunter than me when I see all these pictures from their dads after I’ve come home empty handed yet again.

And while I’m thrilled that those kids got to have those experiences, after about the twentieth post, I’m beginning to question my ability as an outdoorsman considering how many tweens are showing me up.

But then I put the phone down and do the math. I know hundreds of outdoorsy dads who, collectively, probably spent thousands of hours afield this turkey season. Most every one of them would have celebrated their harvest online if they’d had reason to do so. And I have no doubt that Facebook’s algorithms would have rubbed it in my face every time one of them did.

There’s a lot of posts I just didn’t see. So clearly, I’m not the only one that failed to harvest a bird this year.

But don’t think for one second that lack of harvest means lack of success. Because for the vast majority of us that hit the woods in the spring, just being outdoors is a success in itself. Being out there when the songbirds make their first tentative cheeps and chirps in the pre-dawn glow of morning is like being backstage for the pre-show rehearsal of the grandest symphony ever devised. To be serenaded by a whip-poor-will requires being awake and settled in place at the forest edge long before the rooster crows.

And to be near the thunder of a turkey gobble as the eastern sky warms in hues of orange is simply an experience that cannot be sufficiently expressed online. Though I’m certain that if it could, it would go viral. Even if the morning concludes without a bird in hand, as it usually does, it nevertheless was time worth savoring.

I can’t say that what we see on social media is not real. The pictures of our friends’ kids with their first birds are definitely real. But none of it tells the whole story. It only tells the part of the story we want it to tell, and we only see the parts that the machine thinks we want to see. This is true whether it’s our hunting buddies, our kids’ schoolmates, or the political stuff. It’s not the whole story.

I no longer have a mohawk. My girl would still rather watch Spongebob than read a book. And clearly, I suck at outsmarting turkeys.

It’s easy to believe that our lives are lived out on social media these days. But I think it’s just the opposite. The empty space between the posts is where life actually happens. So put the phone down, go outside and live a little.

Just be sure to take pictures of the best moments and share them online so we can all see how great it was.

This, like all other posts carrying The Living Land tag, is the monthly column I write for The Hawk Eye, my local newspaper.