I pull the magazine from the mailbox. The moment my fingertips brush the slick paper, I am lost in nostalgia. Walking to the house, I’m transported by the time machine of memories.
In my mind, I’m in a different home, sitting on a blue and brown, floral-patterned couch. A marker in hand, I flip through the pages of the Sears Christmas catalog circling all the things. A baby doll that actually wets her diapers, big circle. On the next page, a Lite-Brite, another circle. A crib for the baby doll, another circle. My brothers’ circles litter the pages, too—Hot Wheels, Ninja Turtles, and farm sets. This one catalog holds hundreds of wishes and wants.
Back at the kitchen table, my 4-year-old flips pages of her own. Cries of, “I want this, Mom,” and, “Oh, can I have that, too?” bring me back from my nostalgia. She sits next to me as I reach for my phone and begin to scroll. I look up to respond to her plea for a Paw Patrol couch and realize we’re not that different as we look at the pictures—her in a toy magazine and me on my phone. And suddenly the feelings evoked by the memories of sitting on that couch with the catalog in my lap are just as real as the little girl sitting next to me.
You see, social media is the Sears Christmas catalog of our youth.
It’s the place we go to circle All. The. Things. We’ve traded in the glossy pages for high-definition screens. The markers have been replaced by a thumbs up or heart. We no longer tear out pages to show our friends or parents; instead, we hit the share button. We scroll through our feeds like children paging through the Christmas catalog, taking note of everything we want and suddenly aware of all we don’t have.
As we scroll, we notice photos of the amazing vacation a friend recently took. Instead of circling what we want with a marker, we like her post on Instagram.
Another friend posts pictures of progress on the house they’re building. We don’t beg our parents for the newest toys; instead, we hit share and send it to our husbands, commenting, “Why can’t we build?”
Then there are images of happy families with smiling kids at the pumpkin patch, zoo, museum, pool, sporting event, and so many other fun things. Our hearts sink, thinking about the reality of our own lives with angry teenagers, whiny kids, and schedules so packed with activity, there’s no time left for real fun.
We “shop” this catalog, admiring vacations, homes, activities, and even kids, wishing their lives could become our own.
With each turn of the page, our desire for more and different “toys” grows. We make our “lists,” expecting their posts to be delivered to our reality.
Much like the Sears catalog of our youth, social media displays all the things we want but don’t have. But do you remember what else was in that catalog? On the pages we skipped over? Kitchen supplies, dishes, household goods, clothes, shoes, winter coats, towels, bedding—all the things we need.
And if we flip through the pages of social media, in the very back, we discover a new section. It’s full of the things we need from each other. Much like the towels and clothes in the catalog, these pages are more practical. Here we find words and pictures from the real world. Men and women who share their authentic stories not to make us want what they have, but to help us feel less alone.
And while there is nothing wrong with dreaming and wishing, these pages in the back are the ones we need. They aren’t shiny, fancy, or new. Instead, they are real, honest, and maybe even a bit messy. This is what social media was created for. Real interaction with real people, creating community unrestricted by location.
The more we circle these pages with our thumbs and hearts, the more of them we see. Scrolling no longer triggers the cries of “I want” and “Can I have that, too?”. Instead, we hear “me too” and “I see you.” Social media might be the Sears catalog of our youth, but as adults, we get to choose how we use it and how we respond to it.
Friends, let’s make it our goal to use social media for connection instead of comparison, joy instead of jealousy. And, just maybe, we’ll rediscover the excitement we once had when we first felt the slick paper on our fingertips pulling a catalog from the mailbox.