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On Travel Writing, Social Media, and Anxiety

by Tim Wenger Nov 16, 2016

At 6:30am, I force myself out of bed, stumble through the living room, and walk onto my east-facing balcony. The bright Colorado sun hits my eyes like a dart. A crisp breeze slaps me awake and I dig the cell phone out from the left pocket of my sweatpants. I check my calendar and am pleasantly reminded that this morning I have two very different assignments to complete for separate clients, one a quick 1000-word interview transcription and the other a batch of outreach emails for a blog post.

Mornings like this keep me afloat – decent paying work that I actually enjoy doing most of the time. I’m feeling good about myself as I open Facebook and look down at the screen.

Almost immediately, the anxiety hits like a cold flu, flushing down my head and into the tips of my fingers, nearly causing me to drop my phone over the railing. I say it out loud, ‘Wait, Melissa is flying to fucking Berlin right now? Scott’s still in Baja? What am I doing with my life?’

With unnecessary force, I attempt to sit down in the wicker chair on the balcony but miss by a few inches and end up knocking it over. Regaining composure, I storm into the kitchen and put the kettle on the stove, grind a batch of coffee beans, and fall into a deep but hopefully short-lived mental crisis. My peaceful morning of work seems completely incompetent. Why am I not flying somewhere? Why am I not winding down at taco Tuesday after a day of catching waves or milking free drinks from a press trip dinner somewhere far away?

The issue here, of course, lies in social media itself. It is literally, if not intentionally, designed to cause as much anxiety as possible. When everyone has a platform with which to present themselves how they wish to be seen, everyone has to deal with the consequences of others doing the same. The glorification of the humble brag brings with it an underbelly of unseen questioning of one’s self worth.

I look again at Melissa’s check-in at O’Hare, precisely 52 minutes ago. This is someone that I met on a work trip to Canada six months ago. We were shuffled around among a group of journalists for a few days, but will likely never see or talk to each other again. I could just take her out of my news feed, but I don’t. Why? Because she works in the same field as me and there might be a .01% chance that someday she’ll post or be tagged in or comment on a piece of information that could prove absolutely vital to my career, and I wouldn’t have known about it had I not been aware of exactly where she is every single day. Instead, I unfollow family members and high school friends. The people sometimes I talk to, try to care about, and often spend holidays with, but at the end of the day end up not wanting to see pics of their kids or read about their new panel flooring.

No generation has dealt with this before us. Back in the day, it was possible to meet someone, have whatever experience you’re going to have together, and then never hear a word about them again. Not anymore. Even if neither person takes the step of sending that friend request, it’s a safe bet that person is staring right back.

When it comes down to it, social media epitomizes that most demonic of human urges – the desire to have what you can’t have. The ultimate pasture of greener grass lies just beyond one more stalking of someone’s profile or reread of that great article I saw last night. I used to give in to it regularly, posting my own humble ravings about everything people must know about me, but these days I’m much more reserved. Now that I’ve identified the anxiety that other people’s posts cause me, I get incredibly self-conscious about my own posts. It’s like writing. You can never be quite sure how someone’s going to read you. It may be a lose-lose situation, but social media isn’t going away. Facebook is going to keep becoming a bigger part of daily life, and in the end, maybe that’s a good thing. Perhaps it will help me learn to turn the other cheek, looking within instead of through the screen.

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