A glorious plate of food — then the camera flips to friends, who wave as they eye the meal. An explosion of noise with bleary-eyed youths bopping about, gripping red Solo cups. A scene of great weather, either a #firstsnowfall or an idyllic summer day. These are some of the (only) images that fill my Snapchat feed daily.
Since Snapchat notoriously updated — disturbing the axes of our technological reality itself — and lazy people like myself failed to re-update, I’ve been seeing a lot of Snapchat stories. When I unlock my phone, my finger wills itself to the Ghost Logo™ and watches the “stories” of my friends’ lives play out in 10 second fragments. If not on Snapchat, I will find an iteration of these stories on Instagram or, weird as it may be, Facebook Messenger. The proliferation of the ‘story’ function across applications speaks to how much we’ve come to value giving and getting glimpses into the lives around us, specifically into the “best lives” around us.
Increasingly, I’ve found the transition between different peoples’ stories less and less jarring. As social media would tell it, we’re all doing the same things — not just within the Stanford bubble but across universities and settings across the world, including back in my home, Singapore. It makes me wonder what we’re putting on social media and why it’s homogenizing.
We’ve long been made aware of the artifice of social media, of how our realities are cropped, filtered and meticulously catalogued to present a certain picture to the world. I don’t have a huge problem with this. I do it all the time. I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time on Instagram, scrolling through filters, toying with brightness or saturation until the moment looks just a little bit more perfect. Sure, I feel bad about fueling the illusory idealism of social media, but at this stage, I’m entrenched and have settled for always being aware that, like me, everyone else is using Instagram or Snapchat to capture great times above all else. I’m not sure I can condemn them/us for that: isn’t preserving tidbits of the best times the premise of nostalgia?
But what happens when we’re all living the same, nicely-sculpted realities, at least as far as social media goes? What happens when our stories are indistinguishable from one another’s, such that, if ever a time arises, any inklings of FOMO become amplified by our technological bombardment with images of more fun, more hip realities?
Social media is making us unhappy, but fundamentally we’re also making ourselves unhappy. Particularly by buying into certain representations of everyday life as worthy of being shared and others as worthy of being cropped out. Of course, we all have the ‘memories’ function or “Finstas,” where we can always access the outtake videos or photos and remember imperfect-looking moments themselves. But social media is, big surprise, a social endeavor. We need to consider our collective consciousness where our impressions of each other become snapshot compilations of a fabulous life, particularly if you don’t come into daily contact with each other.
I’m no psychologist (woah), but I wonder if being exposed and re-exposed to the same, select experiences on social media is changing our concept of what constitutes fun and, as such, what leads to Happiness. How can we distinguish between our needs and wants and aspirations if all of these become contingent on the external-eye to which we feed impressions of our lives?
Maybe all of this is — in the word that captures a simultaneous laziness and fear of nuance — extra. Maybe this has all been said before, said more eloquently and with the weight of academic credibility behind it. But right now I want to use this journalistic platform, one with some extent of authority, to convey that we should check ourselves before we wreck ourselves.
We should post the unflattering picture (or five), the one where you have a double chin because you’re laughing so hard. Or we should write a caption that is more than cheeky, one that’s sincere and maybe even vulnerable. And we should let such captions adorn photos beyond our “Finstas” so that the world knows you as your friends know. And maybe, lastly, we can fill our stories — the ones seen by all your “friends,” best or otherwise — with real moments in the dinginess of Green Library or quirkier things about the world.
It isn’t going to be easy, but it doesn’t need to be a drastic shift from Perfection™ to Irreverence™. In fact, I’m not sure entirely what would constitute a more realistic, conscientious use of social media, but I think the tendency to fret over posts and predict responses needs to change. We have places to go and real lives to live, so let’s just use social media to engage people in our realities and not fictions. I think we’d be doing ourselves and each other some real, honest-to-goodness (in all senses of the word/hyphenation) good.
Contact Megha Parwani at mparwani ‘at’ stanford.edu.