I like positive posts (writing them and reading other people’s), and this is part of the reason why I started The MuSinGer, but sometimes having a good rant feels… well… invigorating. Seriously though, taking the time to think about why we do what we do as humans and as a society can help us to intelligently question whether these things are actually good for us.
I know that the topic of the effects of social media has been done to death, but one day I was tired and instead of doing the sensible thing, shutting down early for the night, and going to sleep, I numbly looked through some random social media posts out in the ether. My bad. Not surprisingly, I soon became unsettled and fed up. Why? Well a summary of what I saw went something like this (note – what follows is a fictitious generalisation, not actual posts):
Person uploads picture of themselves online.
Person is immaculate. Skin is flawless. Hair, make-up, pout or smile, teeth, clothing – all are top-notch. Not a pimple. Nothing out of place.
Person gets a flood of likes or loves. Comments go something like this: “Wow”, “Hot”, “Amazing”, “Stunner “and a downpour of emojis appear with eyes popping out or animated love hearts.
Person answers every single one with multiple thank yous or return smiley emojis or other benign ‘humble’ comments eg. “Oh, thank you. Oh no, YOU are amazing”.
Person gets a rush of self-approval and appreciation from this adulation and… secretly plans the next photo shoot.
Repeat all the above.
Deep breath. Back to normality.
What planet are we living on??
The planet of the fakes.
Once upon a time, perhaps as children or teenagers (or even maybe just last week) we looked into our mirrors and secretly primped and preened ourselves. Maybe we even took our hairbrush and pretended that it was a microphone and we were the world’s next superstar. We possibly danced around the room. But we were alone. We could do it without a care and if we didn’t quite get it right, or tripped over something, no one would know anyway. We were just being human and enjoying the moment without any ulterior motive.
If we took a photo of ourselves a few years ago, it went straight to the photo album once it was developed (yes, photos were once produced from something called ‘film’ and it had to go to a special room to be printed out on special paper!). If we didn’t like what we looked like, well, too bad – we had it for perpetuity.
Now, if there happens to be a pimple we can airbrush it out or put a sparkle on it. Bags or dark circles under the eyes? No problem. Zap! Wrinkles in the wrong spots? Bah! A steady hand on your mouse and it is blasted into oblivion. We can look like we are five years old again. Once we are ‘perfectly’ readjusted, everything is exposed online for the world to see just how superior we are.
Planet of the fakes.
Don’t get me wrong. It is nice to feel good about yourself and to treasure all of the blessings that we have, but sometimes I wish that the Internet would have a meltdown. I know this sounds horrible, as many people rely on it for their livelihood, learning, connecting with others, or other creative hobbies (including me). Social media can be the most wonderful way of making a difference around the world in mere seconds. But this ugly side, this narcissism and fakeness of presenting ourselves as something we are not, or wanting to outstrip our fellow human beings in the ‘look at me’ stakes, makes me feel sick.
Whatever happened to taking pride in developing our character, knowledge, personality, and in cherishing our privacy? What about loving the mystery that is part of every person’s life, and enjoying the process of getting to know each other as humans over many years, instead of the instant gratification hit of judgements which are purely based on looks?
I once had a Facebook page for two weeks and was bombarded with so much advertising and messages which I did not need to see, that I promptly closed it down. Now when people ask me if I am on Facebook, I point to my face and say “this is my facebook”. My facebook cannot be airbrushed. I want my facebook to tell the story of my life through my eyes, my smile, and my emotions. If people don’t ‘Like’ it, they can tell me in real time. I secretly enjoy the wince of disbelief when people find out that I am personally not on Facebook or into Instagram or other platforms. The MuSinGer is on WordPress and Twitter, all for the purposes of the joy of writing and sharing ideas, but that’s it. My personal life is separate and mine.
I recently read a story of some young people who went dare driving and who filmed their journey online. Unfortunately that video also captured the tragic moment of the accident which claimed the driver’s life, but this was thankfully edited out by the media. A surviving passenger later took a picture of herself in hospital showing her injured face and a neck brace, and put that online. Reflecting on this, one could say that sharing such a story could serve as a warning to other young people about driver safety and responsible behaviours. On the other hand, it may encourage voyeurism, and other young people to be copycats. So what do we do?
Social media fills a void in many people’s lives. Whether it is because we have insufficient connections with real people in our communities, we are deeply unhappy and unfulfilled in our ‘normal’ lives, it is just something fun to do to pass the time, or we want to create something beautiful to inspire others, it can become a crutch for many of us.
When it comes to divulging the intimate or more private aspects of ourselves however, whether that is via photos, risky behaviours, discussing relationship problems, etc. do we really need to post it for all the world to see? I get that there are exceptions, for example, secure sites or areas to discuss medical, parenting, and other issues online, etc. These can be lifesaving, particularly for people living in rural and remote areas of a country and for educational purposes. However, many things online are ridiculously superficial. Filtering is crucial.
Are we seeking validation, justification, love, approval, pity, or are we just bored with who we really are? When a person takes that photo of them decked out in bling and ‘perfect’ features, they are ultimately hunting for attention or approval from their friends, family, and others. What does that say about them and our society? That you are only worthwhile if you look a certain way? That if you are pretty, you will get the golden life? That anyone who does not look like ‘wonderful me’ is destined for a miserable and lonely existence? And what if that person did not get any likes or any reaction to their photo at all? How would that make them feel?
The ‘planet of the fakes’ is a play on the ‘planet of the apes’ movie title, and it bears no relevance to the topic of this post other than it being a bit of a catchy title which popped up in the moment. But maybe we are all apes if we can’t see the value in ourselves without that need to constantly cling to ways of proving ourselves like this. Maybe this is primal behavior? These are ways that will inevitably lead to disappointment when we find that rogue wrinkle, or our belly is a bit pudgy or that girl or boy is more attractive than us.
Do we really want to be monkeys sitting on a rock (or in front of our mirrors, or at our desks, on our couches, or wherever), being so obsessed with ourselves and absorbed with our pouts, or getting the right pose, while we are missing out on that gorgeous sunset in the background there? We are forgetting to look at those twinkling stars and are instead nurturing a culture of narcissism. We are not the centre of the universe.
The Greek myth of Narcissus shows us a picture of someone who, upon seeing his own image in a pool of water, falls in love with himself. Every time Narcissus bent down to kiss his image in the pool, it would vanish. He was thirsty, but could not drink from the pool out of fear of losing his reflection, so ended up dying of thirst. Today our pool is the phone camera, perpetually pointing at ourselves at the potential erosion or cost of our relationships and regard for others. I see it on the trains and in the streets, people staring at their phones and not giving a care if someone who is tired is standing up for a long journey, or if they are pushed aside on the footpath.
So put down that phone, dare to delete a few (or all) social media accounts or at least pare back on the selfies and uploads. Do the scariest and bravest thing known to modern humanity, and find out who you really are by losing yourself a little. It may feel bananas, but getting out into that brilliant, beautiful, and real world of ours is the gutsiest and most honorable thing to do.
Image Credit: pixabay.com