When I was in high school, my friends and I used to have days where we would take our polaroid cameras to the hills of Ojai and snap pictures of us playing in the grass and in nature and in creeks and on swingsets. Our whole day would be dedicated to this and then we would put the pictures online and wait for people to comment on the pictures saying, “OMG, so cute. so cool. looks like fun!” It was fun in the sense that we were taking cute pictures of ourselves that could potentially be our new default picture. In my senior year of high school, we didn’t actually have Facebook or Twitter but we had Myspace, which was good enough to be our virtual playground.
When I look back at pictures of myself and my friends in high school, I look at fun albeit somewhat choreographed moments. With the internet, we were able to cultivate a certain image of ourselves. Bros post pictures of themselves shirtless in front of a beer pong table. We posted twee polaroids of ourselves flying kites and getting drunk off champagne. Same diff.
That’s what I’ve always found interesting and creepy about the internet—the fact that you could create this perfect cool version of yourself. It wouldn’t be a complete lie; it would just be an exaggeration. If someone saw pictures of me as a teenager, they would think that my friends and I got drunk at a lot of cool parties and rode bikes and painted and hung out in front of beautiful trees all of the time looking precious. To a certain extent, that was true, but a lot of stuff was purposely left out. If we didn’t want someone to know something about our lives, we could leave it out. No pictures, no blogging: NEVER HAPPENED.
My friends and I might’ve been extreme in going to the lengths of having embarrassing hipster photo shoots for the sole purpose of posting them online, but the reality is that everyone likes to cultivate a certain image of themselves online. We post certain pictures to our Facebook that will make us look good and leave the gross ones out. We get rid of our activity on our wall if we want to create a minimalist feel. Do we want our lives to feel clean or do we not mind exposing the chaos? The choice is ours. After all, we’re in control here. We get to cut the fat. It’s our life on the internet and we can take it wherever we want.
Even the people who are “bad on the internet” know what they’re doing when they’re posting pics of themselves drinking with their GURLS and skiing in Colorado! They’re satisfied with whatever image they’re giving off. Christians, bros, hippies, hipsters, and parents are all using social media to say something about themselves. This “something” is important, it’s what they deem most interesting about their personality.
People who are “better on the internet” than in real life find great comfort in having this control. Maybe they’re awkward and shy so the internet allows them to think before they put something out there. They can be who they’ve always wanted to be in real life. Haven’t you met someone offline and liked their internet persona better? You wondered to yourself, “How could someone be so cool on Twitter and yet be so dull in the flesh? False advertising!” Well, they do posses those qualities you liked online, they just don’t translate as well when put on the spot.
I believe people have always been image conscious but now with the internet, it has just been magnified. We’re given new opportunities to control our lives in this strange way. Obviously there shouldn’t be such a disconnect between the life you lead offline and the life you lead on the internet. However, there’s no shame in taking a picture of yourself looking cute in a meadow somewhere and thinking, “Damn, this is gonna be a good default pic.”