There is no doubt that today’s social media readily notifies us of updates in our friends’ lives while also keeping us in touch with acquaintances; however, these social media interactions can create illusions of consumption that are hard to live up to. Social media landscapes provide us with increasing opportunities to be bombarded by consumption information, as the framework of today’s social media makes consumption more visible than it was twenty years ago. When I was in primary school, I wanted the coolest transformer toy because my classmate showed it off in class. Today, I am drawn to Ferraris and the Richard Miller because my friends posted about them on Instagram and Facebook. Social media acquaintances whose posts show lavish parties or world travel by private jet can seem like spokespeople for luxury brands; their posts can appear to reflect their typical lifestyles even when they are actually exceptional experiences in their lives.
Humans are social creatures, spending a lot of time in social situations such as workplace meetings, neighborhood events, happy hours, gatherings with friends, and social media interactions. Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post writes, “We have a tendency to evaluate our own standing in life relative to how our friends and neighbors are doing. We want to keep up with the Joneses, and stay ahead of the Smiths. Because of this, when we see other people spending money we have a tendency to believe that we can – or should – be spending too.” It is easy to create lifestyle illusions that actually distort the evaluation of how much one is truly able to consume, which is a particular danger for youth who lack experience managing money. For example, I have seen Chinese students’ luxurious lifestyles garnering public attention over the last decade, even as it came to light that some of them could not afford the insurance for their second-hand Ferraris. Such choices were influenced by social media posts of their acquaintances travelling the world or eating at five-star restaurants, without regard for the fact that those activities were not reflections of daily life.