Apr 25, 2017 - Things to Do

Are we ever going to stop filtering our lives for the sake of likes on social media?

If my Instagram captions were made into a novel, it wouldn’t be fiction, but it couldn’t exactly be filed under nonfiction, either.

It would fall somewhere in the middle, maybe under the umbrella of historical fiction. Much like the disclaimer that would show up before the movie based on it begins, it’s just based on a true story.

I’m admittedly picky about the aspects of my life that get uploaded (I post, on average, once every 10 days) and even pickier about the captions and the messages they convey. As they stand now, the story would read something like this:

“Girl meets boy who convinces her to sign up for Instagram, and she falls for both him and the platform. She goes on to graduate college with a degree in both Literary Studies and girls’ nights out before leaving her small circle of friends behind to be embraced by the real world. She’s the first in her circle of friends to land a job, but leaves it soon after for another that’s much more suited to her tastes. In fact, when people ask her what she does, she replies with things like, ‘I’m lucky, because I’m doing what I actually love to do, which I don’t think many people can say.’ People agree with her.

She’s well-traveled and, when she gets back from South America, even more well-adjusted. She gets her own place and a dog and her calendar is filled to the brim with parties and brunches. The boy slowly stops appearing (though she’ll never acknowledge it), but he’s replaced with more stamps in her passport and cityscapes from places like Vienna and the Matterhorn and pictures of her dog, her friends and her family. No skin off her back.

Her life is an open book and she is happy to let it write itself. In fact, she’s just happy.

The end.”

That’s not entirely true, though. In fact, it’s only about 40% of the story. If the captions were honest rather than carefully and cleverly made, they’d touch on the anxiety-filled nights due to the pressure of finding solid footing after college, adjusting to a city in which everyone is a stranger and losing a sense of purpose after getting shown the door at the coveted First Real World Job due to departmental restructuring.

I’d own up to the reality of struggling through a painful breakup and using Xanax to sleep on the weeknights and partying until the sun came up on the weekends to show the world that I was okay in order to get myself through to the other side rather than paint the picture of an effortless recovery.

Instead of romanticizing my New Year’s Eve, spent alone just outside of Lake Geneva, I would have told all of my followers that I wound up sober, alone and on all fours with a rag, crying over and trying hard to clean spilled red wine at 10 p.m.

And rather than idealizing the once-in-a-lifetime solo backpacking jaunt through Europe with smiling pictures and beautiful landscapes, I would have told female authors to cut the bullshit when it comes to how easy and glamorous traveling alone as a woman is and admitted that I almost came home early twice because I just wasn’t in the mental space to be ready for it.

That’s just the beginning.

But nobody sees that side of the story. They see what I want them to see, the way that I want them to see it: That I’m like any other 20-something on your feed, trendy and interesting, with an affinity for craft beer and rescue dogs.

I’m consistently running my life through a dozen filters in an attempt to keep up with the other effortlessly perfect lives that come through my feed – and to grow my follower and like count, because I’m not confident enough in my own unfiltered life to not have a solid follower-to-following ratio.

This situation isn’t a unique one. So why won’t anybody admit it?

“I think that everyone wants to look like they live an awesome life, so you only post the good stuff or stuff that makes it look like you’ve got that,” Jordan, 26, told me. He started using social media in the age of Myspace, and before he went cold turkey and deleted Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat last month, found himself constantly comparing his own life to others.

He couldn’t be more different than Taralynn, a 26-year-old Charlotte-based blogger whose life and career revolves around her social media presence (she has 66,000+ followers on Instagram) and said that she also filters her life, but not by much. It’s a life that, aside from it being constantly on display, is normal.

“I hang out with my friends, work out, drink wine, take my dogs on walks, cook food and travel sometimes,” she said. “I haven’t changed the way I live my life just to impress my following.”

@taralynnmcnitt via Instagram

She went so far as to call portraying an unrealistic lifestyle and then comparing yourself to other people “cruel.”

“I do it daily,” she said about comparing her life to someone else’s. “But I have to quickly remind myself that social media is only half of the real story.”

And it is a cruel game to play. The University of Pittsburgh found that people that check social media frequently are 2.7 times more likely to be depressed.

Since getting rid of his accounts, Jordan says he has found himself more able to focus on what’s going on in front of him without the anxiety or social pressure that social media adds to his life.

It’s a double-edged sword – when do someone else’s ideals bleed into your own and change what you want your life to look like for the worse? How do you strike a healthy balance? Is there a healthy balance?

McNitt says there can be, and suggests unfollowing accounts that flaunt perfection, citing them as part of the problem.

“Get it off your feed. There’s nothing wrong with cleaning [it] from unrealistic goals.”

Is it as simple as out of sight, out of mind, though? Maybe, but consider the with the unspoken standard that we all hold our lives to – specifically, the one that drives us all to create a feed that makes it look like the lives we’re all leading are kick-ass. Even if it’s out of sight, won’t that standard just bleed out of our iPhones and into our real lives? Won’t we end up comparing ourselves in person rather than on-screen?

I asked Jordan about this, and if he thought that as a society we’d ever start to be more honest with each other. He admitted that no, we probably wouldn’t, and pointed to the need to keep up with the Joneses.

“We need to have constant validation for our performance in life,” he explained. “Because it feels good when you’re doing well and you can flash it at people and they send you a thumbs-up.”

Will we ever send a thumbs-up each other’s way when we’re talking about the fender bender we got into two weeks ago or the breakup we’re going through or the bad day we’re having? Moreover, will we actually admit to things like that? And does that make us liars? I don’t know. Maybe, unless it’s something that we start to talk about and own up to, there is no answer.

Until then, see you on Instagram. I won’t tell anyone how many times you changed your caption if you won’t tell anyone how many times I changed my own.

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