by Iulia Gheorghe
I find myself once again in the panic attack room, sitting as still as I can with an angel on the right shoulder and with a devil on the left one. This scene is familiar to everybody, I guess. (Unless you are the Dalai Lama or somebody very wise and stoic). Every time those two inner, yet outer voices collide into a stormy chorus, I roll my eyes defeated: searching for balance is transforming me again in a casualty of compromise. This time, I decided to write about it because I clearly couldn’t stop the continuous ping-pong mode debate I was witnessing. Yes, even now while I’m typing the world “typing” my two barking buddies are still trapped in a little dust-up.
The heart of the matter?
Documenting our lives on social media : to do or not to do?
I know, this is a tricky one. Somehow, social media is part of my identity as I’m a digital native millennial. When I open my feed, there is a lot of noise, some crap, a bit of overthought content, a scoop of neverthought content, but also wildly inspiring stuff, collective intelligence, glimpses of genius, talent galore, showers of courage and entrepreneurial spirit, artistic touches and droplets of pure wisdom. Swipping up and down in my social networks makes me feel like Peeping Tom lost in the microcosm of instagrammable breakfasts, quotable resolutions, relatable rants and everything in between.
Falling in like
I remember a few lines of Jonathan Franzen from his commencement address at Kenyon College:
“Alongside the eagerness to be liked is a build-in eagerness to reflect well on us. Our lives look a lot more interesting when they’re filtered through the sexy Facebook interface. We star in our own movies, we photograph ourselves incessantly, we click the mouse and a machine confirms our sense of mastery. We like the mirror and the mirror likes us. To friend a person is merely to include the person in our private hall of flattering mirrors”.
Maybe it’s more than a Narcissus effect. He fell in love with his reflection in the water, but we fell in like with our distorted-by-technology reflection - a new persona, radiant, flourishing and clinging stubbornly on the network. Maybe, through all of these filters, hashtags, mentions, profile photos, cover photos, selfies, posts, tweets, snaps, instastories, we are constructing some kind of parallel dimension; maybe it's not as frightening as the upside-down one from Stranger Things, but still artificial and toxic, inhabited with our embellished, and in the same time, disembowelled selves. We gain in attractiveness and magnetism, we can be more easily desired, appreciated, hired or admired, but we also lose in authenticity by throwing up a burka-like filter on our more unstable attributes, those beautifully entangled threads of vulnerability and glimpses of mistakes, regrets and struggles that attended the ballroom of our daily lives.
Are we all likes-fed guinea pigs?
Undermining our authentic self is perhaps the consequence of our addiction to approval and praise. Tech giants understood the crazy dance of dopamine and how they can use it in their own interest. Numbers speak for themselves: for example, as of the third quarter of 2017, Facebook had 2.07 billion monthly active users and daily social media usage of global internet users amounted to 135 minutes per day (thank you statista.org). We are all in the loop, but the background may vary. Some feeds are all about personal moods, family and friends, others are work and career oriented, some of them are a potpourri of all that. If we were to do a street interview about the motivations before hitting ”publish”, we would hear the need to express oneself, peer pressure, helping others, draw attention to a cause, be in the spotlight.
Perhaps you just want to show your dumb classmate from secondary school who bullied you that your life is so incredibly appealing or to your ex-partner that you are better without his/her fartsy pants in your washing-machine. Or we may do it for the five-seconds firework show in our brain which happens when we update the feed and notifications start to pour in. Ramsay Brown, neuroscientist and co-founder of Dopamine Labs, believes that the computer code give us rewards which have no actual value, but trigger your brain to make you want more. For instance, on Instagram, the likes come in a sudden rush. We find ourselves in trance: checking several times per hour if new little hearts are flapping their curvy silhouettes on our screens. However, Brown’s vehemence - “You’re guinea pigs. You are guinea pigs in the box pushing the button and sometimes getting the likes”,– is a little chilling.
Tools to share our story
At this point, one might be asking: “Should we all delete our social media accounts or can we still make something meaningful of it?”. As in a lot of multifaceted situations from the carousel called life, I find myself somehow in limbo. Surprisingly, I don’t feel trapped. I accept that those hearts and thumbs (and their effects on my synapses) are fugacious and unreliable. A lot of posts will fly back to the upside-down world of social media chimeras. And a couple of them will tattoo my inner life, because they are impregnated with inspiring art, honest narratives, memories to learn from, random acts of humanity, all those daily molecules of proof that we, as people, are meant to bond together and change each other’s lives, with or without filter.
Austin Kleon, author of Show Your Work! explains brilliantly the crucial role of sharing stories :
“Story is such a source of nurture that we cannot become really true human beings for ourselves and for each other without story— and without finding ways in which to tell it, to share it, to create it, to encourage younger people to create their own story”.
For the first time in the history of humankind, we have so many tools to transmit, share, compile, re-create stories, accessible to almost everybody, a borderless space for expression and meeting.
I’m hearing the angel admonishing the devil: “You see, documenting daily life on social media is more than bolstering one’s self. It’s about togetherness” and the devil laughing, “I can’t argue with you, ‘cause you’re high on likes”. They are both right and wrong.
We’re facing a crazy bet: building unfeigned connections and encouraging freedom of expression, while wiping off the ego sauce that splattered on our social media constructed mirrors. Do believe me, this ego sauce tastes awfully good, like your all time favorite food melting slowly on your taste buds. But with a little exercise (awareness mode on), you can train yourself to discover other tastes, too. Honesty’s taste, for instance. By showing your honesty you contribute to writing a sentence in the Big Story: the story of being unquestionably human and likable thanks to all of the flaws, gaps and scrapes and not in spite of them. They are instagrammable too!
Of course, when you are honest on social media, you expose yourself to rejection, indifference, even misunderstandings. This is why it can be painful and difficult to do it, especially at the beginning. But there is something stupendously liberating about it. Honesty tastes likes umami. #TryItOnYourOwn *wink*.