Manitoba·Point of View

Self-promotion vs. self-reflection: How can we use social media better?

After years of resisting the pull of Instagram, Joanne Seiff signed up, and saw first-hand the seductive power of an image — and of the validation that comes with a "like." But, she says, we could be making better use of social media.

After years of resisting the pull of Instagram, Joanne Seiff learns about the seductive power of an image

If you have a great dinner out, but you don't post a pic of it on social media, did you really have a great dinner out? That's the question Winnipeg writer Joanne Seiff is asking herself after joining Instagram. (Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images)

I recently joined Instagram. I'd debated this for years. 

Many say it builds their business. It invites visual attention from potential customers. The folks who suggested it to me told me that it was a positive business step that I couldn't afford to skip. 

Others said they feel pressured by the constant reminders of others' "perfect" lives. They saw their everyday household clutter and felt sub par — as if their environments weren't "Instagrammable." 

That's why I didn't really want to keep up with yet another social media outlet.

But when my children's teacher explained that she only posted class photos to a private Instagram account, I couldn't say no. I wanted to keep up with my kids' learning.

Each activity becomes self-calculated. How does this benefit me and my online presence?- Joanne Seiff

Instagram is part of the much larger social media trend toward self-promotion online. Many feel that unless they shoot a photo of their restaurant meal and post it online to document how much fun they had, their experience doesn't really exist.

Each activity becomes self-calculated. How does this benefit me and my online presence?

Folks want to be "seen" by others. Beyond that, they want to be influencers, so others look to them for advice.

I'm not immune to this. I love knowing someone has favourited something I've put online. It feels great when a person references my work and I come across it.

It's a pat on the back, and confirmation that others value what I said. It's reassuring oneself, part and parcel of everyone's existential angst.

An economic need

All this self-promotion came up when discussing work experiences with someone.

In a Manitoba environment where Premier Brian Pallister has frozen some salaries, people want to be promoted, even if it's just for a raise of only a few hundred dollars. Thus people rely on self-promotion. 

In other words, self-promotion comes out of an economic need.  

While self-promotional efforts may feed egos, they also feed our households. In an economy where many of us are struggling to keep afloat, we lack the economic cushion we need to think in a more altruistic fashion.

What's really important, says Joanne Seiff, isn't 'staging gorgeous images for Instagram. It's the conversation that happens in the restaurant while food is served, not the food photo.' (Luca Bruno/The Associated Press)

Yes, some will always need to feed their egos by touting a perfect lifestyle, but others want to become influencers primarily to help with their grocery bills.

What's missing from the social media circus is a primer on how to listen instead of self-promote. 

Take time to listen

The question of many K-12 educators, like my kids' teachers, remains: "how do I help others and serve their growth?"  

However, these are hard skills to build in others. Learning to sit back, listen, appreciate and value the moment, and boost others' development takes time. 

It doesn't come from staging gorgeous images for Instagram. It's the conversation that happens in the restaurant while food is served, not the food photo.

Images are powerful and seductive — it's easy to be sucked in. I wonder how we can use social media as a tool to learn, listen, and help others instead.

Let's put down our phones and experience life directly.- Joanne Seiff

We all feel the need for validation, and certainly being paid for our work helps. Yet, a social media "like" is not as good as having a positive real-life exchange.

Sure, I might feel jealous when I see your gorgeous Instagram image at a fancy restaurant, but it would be more fun to share a meal with you in person.

Let's put down our phones and experience life directly. Let's try learning, eating or whatever — for its own merits.

True, there may be fewer photos online afterwards.  

But if we have good experiences together, growing and learning, we might remember it longer anyway.


This column is part of  CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Joanne Seiff is the author of three books. She works in Winnipeg as a freelance writer.

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