Stoicism, the famous Ancient Greek school of philosophy, was founded in Athens in 301 BC and has spread to the western world since then. It has had many revivals throughout history. Although the teachings of this school are well known, the modern world seems to follow other principles. Contemporary values often collide with the four cardinal virtues of Stoicism.
Most of us frequently use social media and although we all love our daily doses of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, social media perfectly reflects the values of our world.
Instagram often depicts lavish and extravagant lives of the modern elite and leaves the audience with a bitter taste of failure, because they compare their own, ordinary lives with the photoshopped pictures their idols post. This makes them resentful and often depressed. Would the Stoic reaction to social media be better than this? Probably. Since we can’t ask Seneca or Marcus Aurelius what to do in this situation, or what coping mechanism we should develop in order to protect ourselves from the vanity fair of Instagram, we have to take a look at their works and their famous quotes.
If we try to picture a Stoic today, they would probably be users of social media. However, they would use the networks sensibly and purposefully. This means they wouldn’t spend their days scrolling through their Instagram feed or endlessly arguing on Twitter over some irrelevant topic. They wouldn’t let the content disturb them and they would try to engage in meaningful and profound conversations that would result in a creative outcome. They would certainly limit the time they spent on social media and be as constructive as possible. While this might seem like an impossible utopian fantasy, given the amount of content an average user sees on a daily basis, it is actually achievable. Let's analyse some famous Stoic quotes and try to implement these sayings into our everyday life and especially our understanding of social media.
“External things are not the problem. It’s your assessment of them. Which you can erase right now.”
– Marcus Aurelius.
This quote is truly timeless. Although the Roman emperor wasn’t thinking about social media when he wrote this saying, it is definitely useful in this context. People can be deeply affected by the content they see on social media and it sometimes influences their mental health. Once you understand that the content, especially the visually appealing content on Instagram, has nothing to do with you and that somebody’s life shouldn’t disturb you, you can escape this vicious cycle and start enjoying your own life.
It’s important to note that social networks aren’t essentially bad and that they can control our lives only if we allow them to. If we approach social networks rationally and choose the content we share and see wisely, they won’t have a negative impact on us.
“Until we have begun to go without them, we fail to realise how unnecessary many things are. We've been using them not because we needed them but because we had them.”
― Lucius Annaeus Seneca.
Another timeless Stoic quote. Although Seneca probably had something else in mind when he said this, it certainly relates to the influence of social media. Contemporary life is heavily influenced by the commodities we have and all the technological innovations that make our life easier. One of the things that we certainly couldn’t imagine our life without is a smartphone. And what do we use phones mainly for? Of course, social media. People invest so much time into creating a perfect online life that they sometimes neglect their genuine, offline life. All of that results in them becoming addicted to their online lives and the technology behind it.
All the inventions and innovations that we have nowadays that make our lives easier are amazing, but it’s not something we can’t live without. If we think about the main purpose of social media - staying in touch with friends, sometimes it’s a good idea to leave your phone aside and talk to your friends in person. They will appreciate it and so will you.
“Choose not to be harmed — and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed — and you haven’t been.”
– Marcus Aurelius
The power of the human mind is a great force. But, we sometimes forget how great our cognitive abilities are. If we compare the cognitive abilities of a newborn child and of a grown person, it’s a fantastic transformation and shows how much a person can achieve with proper training and education. How can we use this quote in the context of social media? We said that the content seen on social media can damage a person’s mental health and cause emotional and psychological issues in the long run, especially if they are not satisfied with their own life.
Although it’s not easy, we can approach social media rationally and understand that the content sometimes isn’t real and that it doesn’t affect us in any way, we can isolate ourselves and mitigate the negative effect that content on social media can have.
Like many things in life, social media isn’t good or bad, neither is the content. It’s just about our perception and the way we decide to use those social networks. Stoic thinkers would probably use social media rationally, sensibly and as a way to spread their thoughts and educate the society in a way that would benefit everyone. So can you.