Do We (Sometimes) Owe the Internet Authenticity?
Author’s note: All text below is an observational critique and not a judgment of your/my presence online. No judging allowed. We’re all just people trying to be validated and loved! Thanks in advance!
Something like every second, there are approximately 1,100 Instagram photos and videos being uploaded. A SECOND. That’s around 95 million photos and videos a DAY. A. DAY. (I DID THE MATH!!!)
Microscopic snippets of our “lives” we’re performing to an audience, and reflecting back an image of who we want to be, who we think we are to the world. For the record, “lives” is in quotation marks because we veneer the hell out of our content through literal and figurative filters – you guys ever uploaded a photo sans VSCO? Couldn’t be me.
The only learnings we currently have for the effects of social media on our mental health is something like, and I’m paraphrasing here: “it absolutely f*cking annihilates it.” Excellent!! Perfect! Healthy!
We see a fifth of a percentage of people’s lives and make internal declarations about our own existence and contentment in comparison. Our brains kiiiiinda do it involuntarily unless you’re somehow really good at instantaneously filtering out all negative self-talk in which case, what are you doing here reading this article? You should be writing us all a book on how to get the f*ck through life in one sane piece.
But we know this stuff, guys. We’ve seen the studies, the headlines, the articles. We’re able to comprehend, at a basic level, the fact that we’re only seeing a shaving of a blip of people’s daily happenings. So why are we all still obsessed with absorbing people’s perfectly (trigger warning for gross social media word) curated feeds? Why are we addicted to pulling together our own little digital diary?
If people are showing you all their ups, do they owe you some downs? Do they owe you authenticity? Is it your inherent responsibility when you’ve cultivated a “following” to forget your damn grid and filter and just be REAL with people every once in a while? (Internet words are so weird! “Following”? What are we, mother ducks with a little flock of ducklings trailing us? Don’t answer that!)
What are the cons of people only showing one side of themselves? (UH, SERIOUS MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES, APPARENTLY.)
What are the benefits of seeing people’s authentic selves?
What if we all posted without filters or art direction for a month? (Raise your hand if that gave you some heart palpitations.)
And not to get all stoner on the bit but like, what does “authentic” even REALLY mean?
As always my friends: I have the answer.
NO, I DON’T!!! Geez – guys, I’ve been writing here for almost two years, have I ever provided the answer to any problem I’ve ever presented to you?
Instagram is this weird alternate universe where reality and authenticity aren’t ever completely a thing; they can’t be. No matter how much we try to upload the realest versions of ourselves, no matter how much we unfilter, no matter what our captions convey. Because even if you’re following me around with a camera 24 hours a day (which would include a lot of footage of me frantically hoping I’m being useful at work, and sitting in bed reading restaurant menus), it just ain’t reality my dudes; you can’t see the shit show goin’ on up in here *points to head*.
But we upload selfies, and geo-tag ourselves at concerts, and caption projects “I did a thing” because we are all humans and likes feel really damn good. We all need to be liked and we all have ego construction and there’s nothing inherently bad about that.
What feels kinda thought-provoking is how that’s becoming an instrument in how we live our lives. We’ve externalized what it means to be “liked”: likes, hearts, followers, “friends”, etc. etc. And when you start to look at the forefront of who has the most successful Instagram, it’s people with seemingly perfect lives who cover very fluffy topics – It’s been proven that the more a woman sticks to feminine topics: fashion, beauty, homemaking, parenting, food, the less likely she is to be harassed. Is this what prevents us from sharing the more honest version of ourselves? Best case scenario: judgment, worst case scenario: harassment?
Maybe. But in all reality: you really don’t owe the internet shit! You don’t owe them the sides of yourself that you struggle with. You do not need to share everything with the world to be authentic, genuine, or valid. The consistent tension with that viewpoint however, is this looming follow-up feeling of: If you’re creating a somewhat misleading persona to a following somewhere between a mid-sized rural town and a decently large urban city, and it’s contributing to what we know is creating a rampant mental health hazard – do you inherit a responsibility to take that into account?
What do we do about that?
Are we having fun yet?
Liz Welle is a professional feelings feeler but gets paid to do social and digital stuff for brands in Minneapolis while occasionally food styling on the side. She lives in Uptown with her boyfriend and their thirteen plants. She is doing her best.