Sometimes if I go to a certain place or have a certain experience, it doesn’t feel real unless I have a photo to prove it. It’s a horrible mindset to have and I hate admitting it, but it’s the truth. I think a lot of us feel this way to some extent.
If we go out to dinner for a friend’s birthday, it didn’t happen unless there’s a photo on Instagram. If we’re witnessing a beautiful view, it’s not a full experience until we share it in our Snapchat story. Things don’t feel real anymore unless we have them validated by the likes and views of people we don’t even care about.
We’re so wrapped up in our virtual lives that at this point, the illusion of our life that we’re presenting to the world seems like our actual life. You may be tempted to believe that you are the exception to the rule, but think about it for a second. Most of the time, you share pictures of the cool things you’re doing, or you make a status when you’ve accomplished something noteworthy, such as a getting a job promotion or finishing in a marathon. Unless you are just incredibly honest, most of the things you share with your followers have been carefully selected by you and chosen for very specific reasons. They make you look impressive or interesting or worldly. You are presenting the best version of yourself to everyone, which is, in fact, an illusion.
We all have less glamorous sides too. Most people don’t make a Facebook status when their boss chews them out at work, and most people don’t tweet about sleeping until noon and then eating an entire sleeve of Oreos by themselves. Because that would make us seem like we are doing anything less than having an amazing time and an amazing life.
I’ve shared many a photo of myself having fun out at bars with my friends, or drinking a mimosa at brunch. But I don’t usually share any morning-after selfies with the world that consist of me looking hungover, with make-up smeared everywhere and a french fry halfway into my mouth. I don’t make Facebook statuses that inform people I just spent 4 hours watching Parks and Recreation and inhaling a bar of chocolate instead of going for a run. I don’t share that version of myself in my online profiles, but that’s still me too. That’s the same me as the one that seems to be living it up and having a blast and doing fun things. It’s just not the ideal version of me, so I keep it to myself.
Maybe we’re preoccupied with monitoring the illusion of our lives because it’s the only way that makes happiness seem like a real and attainable thing.
Maybe our virtual presence is our way of trying to measure success and contentment. Being able to tweak and perfect everything about our online presence makes us feel like we have some control over what happens to us in real life. We don’t want to share anything average or unpleasant about our lives because that would break the illusion that our lives are anything but perfect.
We all want to create a certain perception of our lives that will impress others, but I think we also just want to impress ourselves.
We all want to be able to look back through our Instagram feed and Facebook profile and believe that we have an impressive and noteworthy existence. We look at our virtual selves and imagine how we look from the perspective of another viewer – maybe an old friend or an ex. We scroll through our Instagram photos or our Twitter feed and we try to imagine what they would think if they were looking at our virtual life. Would they be impressed? Would they be jealous? Would they think we’ve done something with ourselves?
We imagine these situations over and over and over, subconsciously or not. We wonder what others think when they see us online. We wonder what thoughts go through their heads when they peek at what we’re up to. We wonder if they think it’s cool when we announce that we’re moving into our dream apartment. But no matter how many times we imagine what people are thinking, we will never actually find out. We will never know what’s going on in their heads or what their true opinions of us are.
We’re basically going around in circles and setting ourselves up for misery. We’re searching for validation in places where we’re never going to get it. You’re posting things and hoping for likes and shares and views, but what you’re really hoping is that someone is going to pull you aside and tell you that you’re doing it right. You want them to tell you that you’re living life to the fullest and you’re seeking out all the right experiences.
Our generation has a fear of not being extraordinary. We’re afraid of not leaving our mark and of not being admired and talked about. What we have to realize is being famous or wealthy or having thousands of online followers does not constitute an extraordinary life. An extraordinary life is made up of millions of ordinary moments, like laughing so hard that you lose control of your bladder, or laying in bed with your significant other during a rainstorm. These moments might not be captured in Facebook statuses and they might not be shared as filtered photos. But they’re the moments where you’re most present and most alive. So try to grasp onto them and hold on for dear life, because they are better than even the most perfect virtual life you could ever imagine.