Come on, admit it. Nothing we post online is really true. And we need to get over it.
We all edit our public image. Whether it’s untagging that photo from a party where you’ve got a double chin or arranging our breakfast plate and orange juice just so before pressing the shutter and sharing it with the world.
This isn’t an entirely new concept. Throughout human history people have presented one face to the world and taken off their mask in private. We all tell ourselves lies about our lives as much as we make up preferable truths to tell each other. Even people like Samuel Pepys who wrote diaries in the days before blogs were filtering their lives even if they never intended anyone to read them.
This is OK. It’s part of being human and unless you are a sociopath and literally living a double life and leaving a trail of destruction behind you it’s all fairly harmless.
But what’s different about today’s keeping up appearances is the sheer volume of images, videos and words we’re bombarded with by people we know AND by people we have never met and quite probably never will.
This week a friend posted a series of photos of their messy house and sink full of unwashed dishes with the tagline ‘A reminder that online lives are different to real life ones.’ As well as being funny I thought it was quite brave to air their dirty laundry in public (quite literally – for once that’s not a euphemism). The post got plenty of comments and they were all of the ‘Yeah, fuck it, this is real life’ variety.
I doubt I’d ever be that honest about our house being a mess (and Mrs B would likely have a meltdown) but there is something freeing about admitting you aren’t always on top of your shit.
I am not immune to this editing phenomenon. Clearly I choose which photos to post online that show life with Baby B to it’s best advantage. Like this.
But actually I think that’s also to preserve his dignity and because it’s just nicer to look at a cute smiling toddler than one covered in chicken curry like he’s had a fake tan gone wrong or crying his eyes out because he can’t push his toy buggy through a wall.
What I think does get people down is constantly measuring themselves against other people on social media who appear to have it all under control to an inhuman degree. People who seem to be up with the dawn in super cool outfits, casually balancing a baby in one hand while they bake the first batch of fresh bread, sew a funky handmade name print onto a t-shirt, take the children to a retro glamping teddy bear’s picnic and then put the kids to bed while they go for drinks at a book launch.
It’s one thing to worry about whether your friend thinks your house is tidy when he or she pops round for coffee; running round with the hoover, hiding last night’s pizza boxes and picking your underwear up off the floor before arranging some fresh flowers on the kitchen table, baking some cookies, and doing your make up. Or in a man’s case arranging the cold pizza as a snack offering, putting some clothes on and replacing the box set of Agatha Christie’s Poirot with Breaking Bad.
It’s quite another to be fretting about why your house/partner/children/clothes/body/holidays/meals/nights out/nights in/whole sodding life isn’t as good as [INSERT CELEBRITY OF CHOICE] or Simply Super Suki who has a zillion followers on Instagram and who YOU DO NOT KNOW AND DOES NOT CARE WHO YOU ARE.
I think (shoot me down by all means) women worry about this stuff more than men but we aren’t immune and I see the signs of Filter Addiction in some of my male friends. OK so for now it’s about whether the beer they just posted a photo of is a cool enough craft one or whether their facial hair is bushy enough to be tweeted for a charity beard campaign. But it’s a creeping malaise.
Quite aside from what this might be doing to us parents, the worry I have as a dad is how this constant pressure to have the best life on social media is going to affect Baby B as he grows up. I read about this generation of teenagers – the first ‘digital natives’ – suffering from depression and anxiety from a 24/7 culture of comparison and expectation. And I wonder what this will have become by the time my son starts to venture online?
As an optimist I hope by the time Baby B has an account for whatever social network teenagers are using in 2028 we’ll have all grown up and moved on, realised that it’s all bullshit and called out the people who constantly present perfect lives to the world. Told them it’s alright, they can stop now and let the mask slip.
I know I prefer reading blogs by people who don’t pretend and have a laugh into the bargain. In the same way that no good story ever starts with a cup of tea I think the best personalities online are those who are confident in themselves and don’t care about whether they can do it all. Because let’s face it no one can.
Not trying to live perfect lives online also frees us from the nagging voice that follows us around all day whispering “That would make a perfect photo”, to illustrate your next blog post about the ‘Top Ten Ways To Crochet A Summer Wedding Makeover CupCake’.
I’ve read a few blog posts this year by people saying they need a break from always thinking about the next photo of their shoes to post on Instagram, or getting their children to pose AGAIN while they gaze wistfully at a home-made smoothie, instead of simply sitting back and watching them in the moment.
So here are my top seven (because I can’t be arsed to do ten) suggestions for embracing imperfect real life over the tyranny of the online perfect life:
1. Set the bar a notch lower. Aim high but be good enough. Stop tinkering with the lighting on that photo. Don’t rewrite the blog post for the twelvetieth time. Burn the cakes a bit.
2. Switch off now and then. It’s hard to not have a massive attack of FOMO but why don’t you turn off your mobile phone/tablet/laptop and go and do something less boring instead (one for the oldies there). Someone will tell you what you missed. And if they don’t it probably didn’t matter. You won’t have to avoid SPOILERS either.
3. Go for a walk. WITHOUT YOUR PHONE! Yes. Leave it at home. I knooow! Mad eh? You won’t be able to tweet about every other thing you see or conversation you hear but that’s what life used to be like. Whisper it. It was slower. Walking induces a fugue-like state according to Ian Sinclair. What does that feel like? Find out.
4. Get your children to do the same – if you have some. Or borrow someone else’s. Agree to go for a day out off grid. You can stay in town. You don’t have to climb a mountain. Go shopping, walk the dog, do mundane things or go on a home made treasure hunt if you prefer. But be in the moment and then don’t post about it online when you get back. Keep it to yourselves and reminisce about it when you’re all older.
5. Dare to be bored. Just. Waiting. For. Something. To….. Feeling twitchy? Stick with it. Ideas will come. Ideas you couldn’t hear when your head was too loud.
6. When you are online confess what you’re really doing. Not out at that new cafe? Not even watching the latest box set? Didn’t get round to cooking and simply sitting on the sofa eating some cold quiche you found in the fridge in your pants? Fine. Admit it. See if people join in. If they really are having an amazing time refer them to tip number 2.
7. Make shit up. If you really can’t give up wanting to look like your life is amazing but are really really knackered just lie. Who’s going to know anyway? Right. I’m off out now with Dermot O Leary off to this bar in Hackney to see The Orwells and then we’re flying to LA to stay with the cast of Entourage and make the best freaking cupcakes you ever saw. But I’m leaving my phone at home so no photos. Sorry!
Categories: Big Issues