If you have no idea what is going on, I recommend that you read this post first.
If you use social media for any length of time, you will notice a trend in personal profile updates. For the most part, people post the positive elements of their lives. Of course there are exceptions, as I recall one Wininpeger’s update over how the hardship of overcooking their pancake breakfast puts them on equal footing with the hardships endured by the veterans of World War II. These people are the minority however.
The majority of posts are about positive or at least interesting experiences, as people won’t post about the mundane experience of eating a bland breakfast…unless you are Ashton Kutcher and know that fans will flock to your cereal-centric stories. The result of being bombarded by interesting or positive stories from social media is that we begin to believe that everyone around us lives fascinating lives, forgetting that the post represents a small snapshot of a person’s total day.
This snapshot typically happens to be the highlight of their day, as people avoid highlighting the mundane act of say, filling out paperwork at their day job for two reasons:
a) No one will follow them if this is what their posts constitute
b) This doesn’t reflect the digital image they are looking to create
Social media gives the impression that everyone’s life is infinitely more interesting than your own. For this reason, relying on social media as your means of connecting with the outside world is worse than not connecting at all. At least if you are avoiding connections you don’t know what you are missing, but with social media, you are bombarded with the highlights of other’s lives.
So what is the alternative? As any academic worthy of his researcher title will tell you, go out and gather primary data! For the layman, this means going out and experiencing the world.
When we think of expanding our world view, people tend to jump to the globe-trotting, metaphysically-inclined, journeys of self-discovery (that always seem to include Tibet for some reason). If you are like me (i.e. from Winnipeg and thus cheap), there is a much cheaper and concrete alternatives to experiencing the world.
Applying the Concept
Find a local charity in something that you are totally inexperienced with and go volunteer with them. Using myself as an example, I experienced a thoroughly middle-class upbringing and despite being the son of a social-worker, had minimal exposure to the realities of poverty and the typically associated concerns of addiction, domestic violence, etc.
It is for this reason that while in University, I signed on as an inner-city mentor for a year. What do I have in common with a 12 year old boy whose daily routine is a literal struggle for survival with personal addiction and the violence of an abusive family? Very little. But after a year, I gained perspective and at least a partial understanding of the very real challenges this boy and others like him endured.
I went on to volunteer for Downtown Watch and Siloam Mission, further expanding my worldview in ways that the newspaper, social media, academic texts, and every other secondary source could not.
I learned to appreciate just how comfortable my life is and that the standard of living we enjoy is something that some would kill for…and sometimes do. Definitely puts overcooked pancakes in perspective.
Finally, the experience taught me the enjoyment and happiness that can be brought by helping others. It feels good to leverage the comfort and time of your own life to assist others. By focusing on the problems of others, our own problems melt away as we focus on the very concrete challenges that others are facing.
So there you have it, pick a volunteer organization and go join it. You won’t get paid and may even lose money depending on how often you have to park downtown illegally, but the perspective and happiness brought about by the experience will be worth all the parking tickets in the world.