Illusion delusion

October 26, 2016 § 6 Comments

It happened to me again the other day. I met someone – in real life – whom I’d interacted with on social media, and they said to me, “It’s amazing. You’re exactly the way you are on Twitter.”

On one hand I take that as a compliment, because I do strive to be authentic wherever I go. But on the other, it leaves me unsettled, because while what I share on social media might be my authentic voice, it’s not always honest.

There have been days when I have maintained long, punny tweet threads with people while I’m lying in my bed crying. There have been many days when I’ve posted a funny anecdote from my day on Facebook that has people chuckling away, and which presents a picture of me gently poking fun at myself, when really I’ve been self-flagellating all day.

It’s all my voice, it’s all me. It’s not a lie, and yet it’s not the truth.

And there’s something else we do too. We all know that people paint a much more rosy picture of their life than is actually the truth, or that they post dark, deliberately obscure status updates in order to attract attention and/or sympathy. We’ve seen both of those examples, and everything that falls on the continuum between them. Yet we still think we can scroll through someone’s Twitter timeline or Facebook wall and figure out what’s going on in their heads.

We have lost our collective minds.

I remember one of my journalism lecturers explaining to us that objectivity in journalism in a myth just because of the series of choices made between a story coming in on the wires, to its final iteration on the page. Each of those choices is informed by the worldview of the people doing the choosing; all of their unconscious biases come into play. That’s why journalists aim for balance, not objectivity.

We do the same thing on social media: choosing what to post, how to post it, what to answer, what to ignore, what to pretend we didn’t see because it would be too uncomfortable to respond…

For me the saddest part of this is that while we are more connected than ever to a plethora of other human beings on the planet, so much of it is superficial. So much is illusion – smoke and mirrors and perfectly docile rabbits appearing out of hats while the audience applauds.

I’ve made some amazing friends through social media; people I might never have met otherwise. I’ve reconnected with people I’ve lost contact with. It’s a daily part of my life that is equal parts anger and frustration, comfort and distraction.

It’s not all bad, of course – nothing is. But it is steeped in contradictions, and the hidden danger is that it’s very easy to be sucked into a filtered, perfectly cropped, nipped and tucked version of reality that is no more than socially sanctioned narcissism. You can find yourself in a place where maintaining the illusion becomes more important than the truth; where you curate your life instead of living it.

And when everyone else is doing the same thing, your really can’t know for sure where the truth stops and the lie begins.


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