Are you the one putting on a show — or, perhaps, unaware that you’re in the audience?
The other day someone mentioned that they had stalked me on the Internet. I’m always a bit curious as to what they find and what assumptions they have made about me, as I’ve never stalked myself, and I’m sure each person comes to a different conclusion about who I am.
They then told me, “Your social media doesn’t really reflect who you are.”
I remember thinking, “Does anyone’s??”
… And wouldn’t I have to be quite one-dimensional for something as superficial as social media to actually be able to convey who I am?
For so many of us, there are various versions of ourselves scattered about the internet. But usually even the most representative virtual snippets of who we are fall short of encapsulating our entire identity. Whether it be in real life or on the Internet, I would hope that most people assume that each one of us is more than who we appear in one standalone conversation or one Instagram account.
In fact, whether it’s in real life (after many conversations and much vulnerability) or on the internet (after page 7 of Google) — the most interesting things about us generally require some effort and some digging. Shrek once said, “Ogres are like onions” because they have layers. The truth is, we’re all onions—you have to peel back the layers, or, in some cases, the pages on Google. Social media might not even represent the shell of the onion, in fact, it might just be the green neck of the onion that pokes out of the ground! It’s important to remember that we are all so much more than who we appear in one conversation, in one photo, one comment, or in any internet representation of the much deeper, layered people that we are in reality.
The best description I’ve ever heard in explaining social media was taken from our podcast episode with Roger Kuhn who states that everyone is “…running their own private art show; carefully curating their own version of reality, their own version of their identity.” To me, perhaps because of my previous experience as a professional photographer, that is perfectly obvious and — as long as everyone at the art show realizes that it is, in fact, curated — that’s okay. What deeply concerns me, though, is that I’m not sure people do…
Often times I hear, “Wow, it seems like you’re doing so well!” or “Wow, it looks like the company is doing so well!” based off of BBXX’s Instagram. To assume my life, my company, or anything else about me, based on social media, seems laughable, but I can’t help but wonder how these assumptions can become socially insidious. But how much is each person to blame, the consumer vs. the curator?
A couple of years ago I was going through an extremely tough time, coping with the very sudden and tragic loss of my mother that has since shaped my entire life, not to mention my company. I was living at a family friend’s house, alone, having daily panic attacks, hiding from the world, and lost in a dark abyss of despair and depression.
One morning, I woke up to a gorgeous sunrise from the window. I took a picture and, being new and unfamiliar to Snapchat, I simply shared the beautiful photo with other people, so that they could also enjoy the sunrise I was enjoying, sad and alone.
Later that day — in response to the photo — one of my best friends texted me and said, “I’m so glad to see you’re doing better.”
She had to have known I was not okay. But for some reason, she had assumed this conclusion as a result of a photo shared on a platform that can filter anything, from your physical insecurities to your emotions. I know her intentions were good, wistful even — hoping and wanting for me to be “doing better” while feeling powerless to help. But in that moment, I was dumbfounded, hurt, and most of all, deeply disturbed.
Was I being deceptive without realizing it? Do people have the right to make these assumptions? Or is it as unfair — and unfounded — as it felt to me at that time? All I know is that I never once opened Snapchat again.
I have never actually posted anything “instantaneously” on Instagram. If I post something within a month, let alone a week of it actually happening, it’s a miracle. This reality of the anti-reality that is social media is obvious to many of us, yet we continually fall into the trap of deception. How can we all partake in the same charade, yet somehow forget others are doing the same?
I’m reminded of a time a co-worker told me about their Insta-famous roommate. She showed me her Instagram account: clean, impeccably curated, motivational and, from the outside, quite impressive. She then showed me a picture of the same girl’s room, unfiltered. It was strewn with takeout containers, pizza boxes, crumpled clothing, a mattress on the ground, the floor barely visible. But it wasn’t all of this that shocked me the most. In the corner, I noticed one tiny detail of the photo: a recognizable bag hanging on a doorknob that was featured in a recent photo on her Instagram. On her account, the photo has a crisp, clean, blindingly white background. And here I was seeing it, in the same exact place, with the same white background, on the same doorknob, but with the actual hidden reality around it that had been cropped, erased, forbidden to enter her curated world.
Yes, her followers probably know that the photo has been edited to make it brighter, with better contrast. But what they might not realize is that the most important thing being cropped and filtered from the photo — is any semblance of the reality behind it.
In the end, it’s not even about filters, or cunning cropping, or photo editing as a whole. It’s so much more than that. We filter moods and moments and our entire life. And while we can recognize that a photo might be filtered, we need to realize that the entire projected life behind that photo—and behind our personas—is edited as well. That filter is just the final touch; the icing on the cake of disillusionment.
This really hit home on a recent trip to Mexico, where I traveled to a rundown town (that was very photogenic but in reality looked nothing like in photos) and went to a beautiful wedding (where half the party — including the best man and the father of the bride — was not in attendance because they had norovirus). Over the past couple of years, and even more so since that trip to Mexico, I find myself refraining from using socials media much — whether it is to protect other people from their own interpretations and delusions, or if it is to protect myself from their judgment and projections, I am not sure.
Even with the rise of the “getting real” post on Instagram — it is important to remember that nothing is unfiltered, and nothing should be taken at face value. We should always take everything on social media with a grain (or entire shaker) of salt and remind ourselves that social media is but a privately curated art gallery.
At the very same time while I could have been posting envy-inducing photos of the beaches in Mexico, the reality behind it is that I spent no more than five minutes at that beach, and the very next day after those photos were taken, I had to get emergency care on my flight to Mexico City — the plane was grounded, and I spent the rest of that week quarantined, alone, in a random Airbnb, spending some quality time with the Norovirus.
I didn’t see the city nor eat a single taco before I flew back to the US. Cheers to the unpredictable, unglamorous, but so much more meaningful backdrop behind social media — real life.
Don’t forget to connect with your friends in that life. Social media is not a substitute. Reach out, ask them how they are. Get real. Peel back the layers of the façade. Peel back the layers of the onion —even if it might make you cry 😉
“The secret of a full life is to live and relate to others as if they might not be there tomorrow, as if you might not be there tomorrow. This feeling has become a rarity, and rarer every day now that we have reached a hastier and more superficial rhythm, now that we believe we are in touch with a greater amount of people. This is the illusion which might cheat us of being in touch deeply with the one breathing next to us.” — Anaïs Nin