No one is watching your every move.
Sure, maybe big brother is. Maybe the government is. Maybe the person that’s got a serious crush/obsession with you is. But the real truth is that unless you’re Barack Obama or a celebrity on par with him, no one really cares that your latest Instagram would have looked better with a different filter.
Social media has turned the millennial generation into an intensely self-conscious group of smartphone-wielding youth. Every update, photo, tweet, blog post (even this one) is crafted with a keen sense of self-perception. Posting something on the Internet is never personal, no matter how strong your privacy settings might be. Why would you publish something online if you didn’t want anyone to see it? That’s not even a rhetorical question. The truth is, you wouldn’t—even in the days of updating your LiveJournal or Xanga (already strangely archaic), you still positioned your words with the distinct notion that someone, anyone might read it.
The philosophical notion of the “other” is at the center of social media self-censorship. It’s something of a complex idea that’s been discussed and dissected by plenty of scholars more intelligent than a pop culture blogger, so let’s keep it simple here. Basically, everyone has their own sense of self, which is shaped and validated by a sense of the other—by acknowledging that there are others around you that may perceive you in some way, you’re confirming your own identity as tangible and real.
Social media has taken the concept of the other and pushed it into overdrive. Before, the other helped us form social identities and groups we like to associate with in a very physical sense. Now, with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and a slew of other networks, baseline metrics have been attached to the number of people who see a given online post in the form of friends, followers, or fans. In many ways, this is much more intense than, in the most primal terms, walking out of your house and conducting yourself a certain way as you went to the mall to meet up with friends. It’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High on steroids.
All it takes to launch into this hyper-awareness is one online friend or follower. Take a look at any Twitter account with 100 followers. The tweets are generally posted as if there was an audience of thousands consuming them the second they enter the public view. Similarly, it’s probably not an exaggeration to say that over half of all blogs started still mention something along the lines of “no one’s ever going to read this probably, but I’m making this blog for myself and to write about the things I like. Finally started one!” Even that kind of message, designed for “myself” is written with the acute awareness that someone, maybe, secretly hopefully anyone, will read it.
When you add hashtags into the mix, this sense of the other balloons to epic proportions. Suddenly, instead of 100 followers maybe-but-probably-not seeing your tweet about misplacing the TV remote, there’s the potential of millions catching on just by attaching a #firstworldproblems to the end of it. This is just like the feeling that you’ve won $10,000 from a lottery-scratcher before you’ve even laid a coin or nail to it. Rich until proven otherwise. The possibilities, man.
Our natural inclination is to perceive such theoretical possibilities as reality when posting online. Ironically, that’s why the lives we curate on social media are an altogether skewed version of reality itself. We’re all putting our best selves forward online, whether that’s actively featuring the best pictures we can find of ourselves, or passive aggressively trying to move against that trend by posting rarely, quietly, and often in frustration toward the active bunch. Fittingly, everyone perceives what you post online differently, due to the outward projection of their own self and its relation to the other, including you.
We’re all in a mosh pot of self-consciousness and doubt. That’s why you should never strain yourself too hard to get the best angle for a selfie—the bottom line is everyone’s just as concerned with their own image, one way or another, to notice how concerned you are with yours. So go with the sepia filter and stop stressing about it.