“If I didn’t already know you and like you, I would probably hate you”. This is a direct quote from a co-worker in response to some photos I posted on Facebook of my latest hiking trip in the mountains. She explained that her and another co-worker were discussing how my posts always portray some amazing trip, or experience, and it seemed as though nothing bad ever happened to me. Her comment was meant in a light-hearted way, but it really got me thinking about the impact social media has on how we perceive reality. I assured her, my life is not like that. I have bad days. Really bad days. Days where I feel so crappy or am such an emotional wreck I don’t even want to get out of bed. On those days, I stay away from social media. I don’t vent my frustrations to the world because I think “who wants to hear me complain?”. But it turns out people want to hear the good and the bad. They want to hear your ugly truth so they can feel better about their ugly truth.
Her comment demonstrates that social media can’t be trusted to show the true nature of peoples’ lives. That girl you might be jealous of, with all the party posts and her 800 friends, might be struggling with severe depression and is hiding behind her Instagram selfies. People like to show their “highlight reels” and pretend that everything is perfect to make themselves feel better about their own lives. Is this what I was doing with my posts? Probably. But everybody does it. Why else would we post an endless amount of pictures, status updates, comments, and likes? It’s that “keeping up with the Joneses” attitude upgraded for the 21st century.
Why am I on Instagram? Because I love to look at other people’s photos. It’s fascinating to get a glimpse at somebody else’s life, no matter how fleeting or fake it might be. We are a truly voyeuristic society, proven by the popularity and abundance of social media sites. People love to watch other people. We love to watch them do good things, bad things, cute things, and crazy things. If you don’t have a social media account, people are shocked and wonder what is wrong with you. Don’t you want to be a part of society? How else do you validate your existence to the world?
You can be anybody you want online. You can make up a profile and with it, a whole new life. There’s an entire TV series based on people unwittingly falling in love with fake profiles and ultimately confronting them. You can express nearly any opinion and say anything you want. Well, almost anything. In the last couple years more and more people are being held accountable for their online actions and I think it’s about time. What gives us the right to post random pictures or videos of people without their knowledge? Is it ok to humiliate another human being simply because we were in the right place at the right time with our camera? We have the ability to ruin lives with our freedom to share and view online content.
I am, of course, a complete hypocrite. I rag on social media but I’m writing this blog right now and it will be posted to my Facebook and Twitter accounts in the hopes that people will read it, like it, and share it. I will continue to post my photos of my good days and what I think are funny stories. But maybe, sometimes, we should stop and think about what we’re viewing and assuming as we scroll through the endless supply of information that allows us that fleeting glimpse at someone else’s life. We are after all, playing our roles perfectly in the Social Media Masquerade.