I have trouble with social media. I grew up in the age of Prodigy and AOL, getting into chatrooms, playing 8-bit games, coyly trying to pretend I was cooler than what I actually was, by presenting myself to be my ideal self. This seems to be the norm with people in my age group, how we were introduced to the internet and how we interacted with it. If I looked like how I presented myself, back in those early days, late 1990s, I would be tall, smooth-skinned with long, Pantene-esque hair, and a good cook. Now, in my forties, I’m not any of those things (and I’m ok with that), but what we wanted to be versus what we turned out to be is a right of passage, of self-discovery.
MySpace was the first real venture that encouraged us to put our actual faces on the internet. Oh to think how innocent we were then! Then Facebook, before everyone’s grandma joined in. Gazillions of photos instantly available for any situation! If you missed an event, there are photos! If you want to see how your old high-school sweetheart turned out? There’s photos of him and his kids! And in the back of our heads, every time we take photos, we are thinking about how this will look on the internet. Photos are more staged; smiles are doubly encouraged to show WHAT A GREAT TIME WE ARE HAVING. All I can picture is the montage of photos they show at the end of someone’s life so we’re all inspired to think, “She was always so happy!” Was she, though? The face we put on for the internet (read: what the masses see, not your physical close circle) is not who we are. To post a picture of vulnerability, of sadness, of truth on Facebook or Instagram, or whatever social media the youngsters are using comes across as a call for attention. If someone isn’t smiling, there’s going to be a good reason for it, right? But they were smiling in all 1,000 of their other photos, so this is just a hiccup and they’ll be better! Photos that show us not having a good time, slumped on the couch in our three-day old pajamas, those are real… but it’s not what the people want.
I think about Anthony Bourdain a lot. I mean, a lot. I’ve read his books, followed his television shows, and thoroughly enjoyed his commentary on life. In Kitchen Confidential, he was open and honest about his mental health issues, as well as his fall into drugs and alcohol while working in the restaurant business. There are no circulating photos of this time period of his life, of him passed out in an alley, of him cutting off pieces of his fingers from slicing vegetables because he was too high to be working. These would be photos of truth, but they aren’t circulated because people don’t want to remember that. They don’t want to see the truth of life. The imagery shown of him traveling to different cultures, hugging grandmas who cook their monthly stipend’s worth of food just for one television show, of him meeting old friends on cobblestone streets and drinking fine wines, it’s awe-inspiring. He connected with so many people, more than he could ever know just by the broadcasting of his shows. You can easily find photos of him in picturesque locales, practicing jujitsu, hanging out in someone’s backyard for a crawfish broil. These are the social media faces we put on. He had his inner-turmoil. It wasn’t seen, it wasn’t visible, and I feel like he and others like him aren’t empowered to show these vulnerable sides. Social media has taken this away from us.
I guess my point is that we have stopped being true to ourselves because we’ve changed the idea of truth. Social media has made us feel like we need to show the brighter side of life, even if it isn’t the truth. Let’s be real to each other. Even if you feel like you need to keep posting those fun and smiley images, talk to people and tell them who you really are. That’s most important.