COLM O'REGAN: Opening Lines: Social media creates rivalries with strangers

Rival — the word comes from the Latin rivus, or a stream. Presumably keen rivalries began between people who shared a stream. One man’s fish-source is another man’s tannery drain.

Rivalry can often be one-sided. The person you’ve been competing with may not even know they’re your rival. It is after all 20 years since you saw them last and they’ve no doubt forgotten they once slagged off your runners in PE. (This is a hypothetical example of course. I was fine with what you said about my runners).

Rivals are no harm of course. Competition is essential for survival as it encourages us to perform better. Animals compete. Hyenas snarl at each other over bits of wildebeest. Stags clash antlers in the forest over who gets to be stuck in a rut. The winning stag gets to see his genes continue on. The loser goes around telling his friends “them does weren’t all great shakes anyway”. But in the animal kingdom, competitiveness is a matter of life and death; each bout is over quickly and forgotten. A jilted stag isn’t spending ages clicking next on an album of 120 wedding snaps of John and Joan Deer. A hungry hyena doesn’t have to see a dining-selfie of his rivals, maws-deep in the haunch of their still-breathing victim. Being a hyena he can at least laugh about it, keep calm and carrion.

Humans have a new problem with rivals. Now we have hundreds of them, even people we don’t know, one-sided rivalries that make us dissatisfied with our own lot.

The culprit, like 98% of culprits in columns these days, is Social Media,

Years ago if you had a rival you might only find out what they were up to, through your mother, or see them in their swanky runners at mass or maybe see their graduation getting a mention in the Parish Notes of the Local Paper. You could live your life without having to see theirs. Now their poxy achivements are coming up on your phone. And they’re coming from all over.

Social media can make us feel blue because it presents a carefully curated view of others’ lives. That toe-photo of holidays with the sea glimmering in the distance, is an edited highlight of a fortnight pockmarked with flight delays, broken air-conditioning and sudocrem. But social media is also making us — ok me — feel stressed on a work level. Because now I’m competing with a wide range of achievers that I would never have to worry about before.

When I see someone humble-brag about how busy they are I’m stressed that I should be busier. I’m also stressed out competing with jobs I don’t even do.

“Hey everyone here’s some photos of me working away on an incredibly entrepreneurial project.” Says another friend on Facebook. Oh here we go. I really should be busier and doing more with my life. I’ve taken the foot off the pedal. This guy is wiping the floor with me in chosen career. What’s his chosen career? Panel beating. Why am I not a panel beater? What have I DONE with my life.

I see mutually exclusive lifestyles I want — outdoors, indoors, rustic, sophisticated, playing computer games, walking cliffs as if all these things were being achieved by one superhuman on a mad-sesh/relaxing/stimulating/yoga weekend. But they’re not. This is from numerous people’s lives. I can’t live all of them at the same time.

Competitiveness is not always a bad thing. There will be times when we’ll need to clash antlers or snarl at someone to get our share of the bloodied carcass on the Serengeti.

For the rest of the time though, I’m just going to compete with myself. And we’ve had a chat and decided to call it a draw.


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