// Photo by Thong Vo
I always wondered if people realise the irony when they call out advertising agencies and the oh-so-convenient “mainstream media” for their excessive use of Photoshop. We’re always talking about how unethical it is, how manipulative it is, how misleading it is. Perfect facial composition and fair skin encourage unrealistic comparison and pursuits of beauty, they say. Slim cover girls promote unhealthy body standards, they say. Topless models and scantily-clad clad ladies degrade women to being objects of sexual desire, they say. But the truth is, with the advent of social networking, almost everything around us has been Photoshopped, and it’s unsettling that many of us have not realised that.
I‘m not a heavy consumer of social networks. I mainly use them to promote my works and share major moments with my followers and potential clients. I do, of course, scroll through my various feeds to see what the world and my friends are up to. The Pet Society and Restaurant City days are over, and it has been quite some time since I clocked in over fifteen minutes a day. It was fun initially, but the novelty soon wore off after I realised how miserable social networks were making me feel.
I think the first issue with social media lies with the blanket of illusion we have chosen to wrap around us. No one will understand or even acknowledge your struggles, and why would they? Everything seems so wonderful on the surface, so why should anyone feel intrusive enough to understand your troubles when you’re supposedly having the time of your life? And that bothers me, because I feel uncomfortable living in a lie I created for myself, trying constantly to be the person my Facebook and Instagram profile portrays me to be.
How do I let others know that I’m not half the person that I ‘say’ I am on my social networks? I’m not always this happy or successful in life. The pictures and status updates are all from the high points of my life. Why would I choose to publish the moments when I’m down low, rock bottom? No one likes a whiner. It’s eating me up slowly every single day, as I’m starting to wonder if the life I’m living is genuine, or just a fabricated portrayal. You can only ‘live’ in a lie for that long, you know? After some time, the lines are bound to get blurred.
When I log into my Facebook account, I see my friends, family, and even teachers posting photo albums of their trip out, their food, and/or their vacations. I start to ask myself, “How are they supposed to enjoy their trip if they’re constantly posting pictures every, few, minutes?” before getting mildly annoyed by the fact that their pictures are appearing on my timeline every, few, minutes.
And because instant gratification can truly be so addictive, I used to find myself taking picture after picture of what I’m doing and then sharing it online. It could be of a nice meal, a nice place, or even a nice experience but eventually I stopped doing it. The dilemma of choosing between capturing the moment and just being in it resulted in internalised frustration that I could bear no longer.
Why do I have to tell people what I do? or Why do I have to tell people what I’ve achieved? are thoughts that always pop into my head when I’m about to tweet something. Indeed, why? Why do we let people tell us how to feel about ourselves? Why do we let peer recognition form the basis of our emotions? Why do we value our self-worth with easily manipulated social currency?
It pains me every time I hear my sister go on about how many likes her photos got and getting excited when she finally passed the 100-mark (for a 12-year-old though, that is quite a large number). It’s as if the amount of superficial attention we receive are the be-all and end-all of how special we evaluate ourselves to be. That is one of the reasons I worry greatly for the next generation. It is frankly quite astounding to see the amount of effort youth are spending on increasing their like count, or applying filters to increase their like count. Worse still, they allow the resultant feedback to dictate their moods. Thoughts of Am I pretty enough? or Am I getting fat? dominate their brains when the like count doesn’t match up to their standards.
To think our future lies in the hands of insecure people who want to be famous for absolutely no reason terrifies me.
When my friends, who are following me on Instagram, ask me “How’s life?”, “What’s up?” or “What have you been up to?” I’ll usually follow that up with a few moments of silence. Have you not been following me on my Instagram? usually pops into my head immediately. The fact that they liked my every picture made me wonder if they’re just liking for the sake of liking.
While social media brings people closer virtually, it pulls us apart in real life because there’s no longer a need to connect face-to-face. With thoughts shortened to 140 characters and videos compressed to just 6 seconds long, everybody’s running out of patience. Everybody gets bored quicker. Everybody just needs something to stimulate his or her faltering attention spans.
Every time I’m on the subway I see friends, couples, colleagues, and even families so fixated and enchanted by their smartphones. It makes me question the relationships these people share. I mean, it’s your friend next to you. It’s your potential soulmate next to you. It’s your children next to you. Why would you forgo the opportunity to interact and expand your horizons in order to frolic around in your social networks, making yourself feel miserable in the humble brags of others?
If they are complete strangers or perhaps awkward with each other, that’s understandable. But we’re talking about couples, about workplace buddies, about parents and their children. Shouldn’t there be enough cause for interaction in each of those three instances, especially the last? It bothers me when I see parents just scrolling away on their tablets, prowling through Facebook instead of talking with their kids. When their young ones grow up to be problematic adolescents who are not entirely down with the whole ‘talking’ thing, what do they do?
Complain… on Facebook.
Again, this is why the need to meet up decreases. If I am going to spend every gathering with a bunch of people buried deep in their gadgets, wouldn’t staying at home be a more logical alternative? I don’t have to dress up, I don’t have to spend any money, and I definitely do not have to toss around in my bed at night, wondering if I was interesting enough to talk to earlier in the day.
And it’s so stupid. It’s so stupid that everyone just types. It’s so convenient, and it sounds so ridiculous. People spend more than half an hour trying their best to conjure up that perfect thousand-word dedication post that barely anyone reads because they’re just so sappy. These are words that are meant to be spoken to one another, but why the hassle? Why tolerate the awkwardness when you can post your words of thanks online to portray yourself as a selfless, loving, and gratuitous person?
When I do something nice for people, I don’t receive so much as a single thank-you. I’m not that small of a person to be bothered by the lack of reciprocity, however. Truthfully, I do not really care. One of my teachers in primary school told me not to do something just to receive something in return, and it has stuck with me to this day. But I do feel extremely troubled and worried. I truly do, because what I did receive were either texts, status updates or Instagram postings that are longer than the Channel 8 show about the Taiwanese pasar malam. I do enjoy feeling appreciated. Who doesn’t? I revel in the temporary high I receive. Who doesn’t? I like people thinking I’m awesome. Who doesn’t? But I don’t want all these. There is no need to expand my Instagram feed by a few inches because my self-worth doesn’t inflate proportionately. Save yourself some time. I just want a simple “thank-you” from you face-to-face. I want to hear you speak and hear your voice. That is all I’m asking for. Ten seconds of your time.
People judge people. That is a fact, and I’m no exception. When I’m scrolling through my Instagram feed I can’t help but wonder if we’ve gotten to a stage where putting together long chunks of texts and telling them to hundreds of followers that are not even relevant takes precedence over saying thank-you to each other in real life? Why is there a need to write in a manner that would otherwise sound utterly laughable when spoken?
Ask yourself this. Have you told (with your mouth) whatever you’ve written in your Instagram caption to the person you meant to direct it to? Every word, or at least a reasonable gist of it? If you didn’t, why are you posting it online? Have human interactions, when it comes to gratitude and love, become secondary in favour of a positive portrayal of one’s self?
We want to thank the people we mentioned in our captions. We want to give them the spotlight for how they supposedly impacted our lives. We want them to feel universally loved and gratified. But truthfully, we’re just being our own self-centered selves. It was never about your friends. It was never about your family. It was always about trying to make us look loved, trying to make us look good, trying to show others we’re grateful and ideal human beings. It was never about them; it was always about… us.
While I understand the importance of adaptability, I find it hard and painful to adapt to a world where words that were meant to be spoken gets worded out with our thumbs instead. I feel so lost trying to find my way around people who are equally lost in their social networks.
Even when a trip is boring or mediocre at best, people shamelessly exaggerate about how great it was. It’s necessary, because how stupid and condescending would you sound if you tell people that it was a boring night “with my friends #squadgoals”? Again, no one wants to hear about negative stuff. If you’re going to post something negative, you might as well not post it. The vicious cycle of self-censorship thus continues, leaving others with just the high moments of your life.
We all want to see things we can’t have, see sights we won’t get to see, and see people doing activities that we can’t possibly see ourselves doing. People crave for what they can’t have.
Luxurious cars, expensive suits, beautiful ladies and good-looking men. We all say we’re against elitism, but yet we love them ‘cause they ain’t us. We choose to brag about our materialistic hauls. We choose to meticulously lay down the clothes we bought from the shopping mall for 30 minutes, only to spend another half hour finding that perfect angle. And it should come as no surprise that we vigourously seek that perfect picture that flatters our bodies. Despite all this though, we all end up exhausted. Lying saps energy, and it’s tiring to keep the momentum of a bluff going.
Deep down, you know that the expensive watch you bragged about came at the expense of interest-heavy instalment plans for the next year or so. You know that you’re not really staying at the hotel you took a quick picture of. You know that behind deceptive positioning, desirable lighting and numerous filters, you do not have the perfect body you’re making others think you have. Because that’s not you, but yet you continue to keep the act up because it’s never enough. You think you have enough, but someone else comes along with something more and you’ll feel unsatisfied all over again. It is always never enough when it comes to social media. There’s always this need to feel better than the rest, because that’s the only way to keep you happy.
All of these have since led me to believe that social media doesn’t actually bring people together; it pulls them apart. I am so close to giving up and just allowing reality to sink in. I’m losing connection with everybody. I’m trapped in a lie I created myself to please superficial audiences. I struggle to live in the moment. I will never be able to tell how truthful someone is anymore because it became so easy to lie. The smartphone habits of people have made this cramped little island more isolated than ever before. Social divides are forming despite social media’s humble intention to bring people together.
Now back to the Photoshop irony. We always complain about how things around us are manipulated and the subsequent ‘psychological damage’ they have caused, but such an accusation reeks of hypocrisy. People are starting to create new identities for themselves, trying to portray themselves as perfect and affable. In a way, the apparent double standards have made it easier to strike a direct comparison with Photoshop. People use the software not just to remove defects, but also to enhance favourable elements. Likewise, with social media, you are presented with an opportunity to not only neglect your flaws and weaknesses, but to augment and intensify your strengths and at times, self-righteousness, to the people around you. Think about this first though before renewing your 30-day free trial:
How different are we really from that hot chick on the magazine cover?
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