offline me vs online me
Behind the Scenes of Millennials on Social Media
“[…] those whose activities are limited to taking selfies must still actively distribute them to get the “likes” they want. But self-design does not stop here. We also produce aesthetically relevant things and/or surround ourselves with things we believe to be impressive and seductive. And we act publicly—even sacrificing oneself in the name of a public good—in order to be admired by others.”
-Boris Groys, Self-Design, or Productive Narcissism, e-flux journal.
Social media is tricky. It influences our every day existence, from what we read, through what we (want to) eat and how we (want to) dress, to how we look at ourselves in general. Consciously or not, the public spends hours scrolling down, looking at lives they wish they had. The great amount of discourse around social media and it’s lack of authenticity therefore comes as no surprise, whether it is teenage girls crying on camera, confessing how they starve themselves to achieve their looks, Boris Groys, writing about self-design or Kristin Dombek questioning narcissism.
Do I, as a content creator and a consumer of content, hold certain responsibility over the content I publish ? Should I be more conscious with my posts ? Should I be more honest or less honest ? I often debate whether my audience indeed cares, or rather, reads deeply into the content I post, or do they just care about it’s aesthetic quality. What is posted online is, just like photography itself, never one hundred percent candid. What happens once I, being someone who uses social media for work and self-branding on daily basis, gets truly honest; what if I tell people about how deeply troubled my mind is and how much I struggle with me own self image; what if I tell people that everything they have thought of me, based on my online content is a lie. To my surprise, the feedback was noticeably positive and I was approached by multiple friends and strangers, who apparently feel the same way, understand where I am coming from and who think this series is groundbreaking, revolutionary.
“Let’s face it: we refuse to perceive ourselves as “slaves of the machine.”What does it mean when we all agree that there is an addictive element to today’s social media use, yet none of us is apparently addicted?” (Lovink 2016) Why is it so hard to admit, that we try so hard to publish the kind of content that receives enough likes to feed our egos. Most, if not all, of us do it. Is it bad, that compliments and heart emojis under my selfies make me feel better about myself ? I witness the society commonly overuse the term Narcissist - and so it turns out every millennial with a social media presence is a self-absorbed Narcissist.
"Consider this: maybe a woman — or really any person — who takes and publishes many pictures of herself is simply ambitious. She wants people to recognize her image-making ability, her aesthetic boldness, her bravery for stepping into the frame and clicking send. When you tell someone that they have sent too many images of themselves into their feeds, when you shame them with cries of narcissism and self-indulgence, when you tell them that they are taking up too much virtual space (space that is at present, basically limitless, save for the invented boundaries of taste): you need to question your motives. Are you afraid of a person’s ambition to be seen?” (Syme)
We are too scared to admit, that we need attention. We live in this busy hectic world, some of us working full time, others balancing school and work. Having an eventful social life could be challenging, sometimes the only way to see what your acquaintances are up to is via Facebook or Instagram (you could text them but social media lets you engage with people without actually having to talk to anyone). I googled how many images are posted daily online and over a million results popped up, showing different statistics, so I came to a simple conclusion that hundreds of thousands photos are uploaded to social media daily. Therefore no matter what, you are going to see the people you went to high school with, who appear to have much better lives than you; you see your ex with their new partner smiling ear to ear; you see the person living next door posted a gym selfie. And that is when you start feeling bad about yourself, you try to make the post that is going to convince your colleagues and old friends you are well-off, while actually you are miserable. How come, that even with hundreds of friends and followers, we feel so lonely, and so disconnected. "The inflation of the number of friends can be called “voracious” because this number will always be insufficient. Thus, Facebook “friends” are often just “extras”; real conversations occur only with a select few” (Petit, Boisseuil, Iffli 670).
In his essay What Is the Social in Social Media?, Lovink writes, “We all need a break from the social circus every now and then, but who can afford to cut off ties indefinitely? In the online context, the social requires our constant involvement, in the form of clicking.” Instead of cutting my social media usage down when I was not feeling so great about… well, about life, that is when this series started. With this project, whenever I get the urge to post something that would make my audience (so friends, family members and complete strangers who’s opinion should not matter to me but it does) think that I am doing well, still happy, still confident, not stressing out at all, I instead post a “cry for help”, because that is what I need; help. To a certain extent, I think tricking people into thinking that this well-curated online version of myself is who I am in real life, is in fact quite entertaining. I like that people think I am kind of intimating, it for sure makes me appear more legit when they look through my work (like you know, that I know what I am doing). But at the same time, I want people to know that there is no shame in being sad and needing help. Admitting that you need support and asking for an advice could be challenging to admit (even to yourself) and more terrifying to do, but looking at people’s “perfect” lives online is going to leave you feeling alone and pathetic.
The first photograph I have posted from this series, was a photo of myself crying. And despite the fact my friends knew about this work, they still texted me to check up on me. I got messages, I got “DMs”, I got comments, some people were concerned, some were encouraging me, telling me “they feel me”, a few told me they wish they could be that straight forward. That is what I hoped and what I needed, since I too, am bad at asking for help. So, is it bad seeking attention online? The term “attention seeking whore” floats around the world wide web and makes the users feel guilty about literally having basic human needs, like need for attention. Then I posted another image, this time of myself in my underwear, stating “I hate my body but mostly I hate that I do not love my body”. When it comes to bodies, even those who promote body positivism, would often do anything to change what they look like. But anyway, my point is, no one actually is who they appear to be online. My project is a performance, but even my “non-art related” posts are a performance. My online presence far away from candid as humanly possible. And while there is complaints coming from all around, about the “fake-ness” of social media, how people spend too much online, the obsession with self-image and the constant need of attention to feed our egos, I personally believe social media is a great resource for not only keeping up with your friends, promoting (yourself and products), learning and so on, but it is a great and easy tool for receiving attention (in form of compliments under a selfie for example) when you need it on a bad day.
Yet, nothing posted on social media is permanent. The feeling you get after your post reaches a certain amount of like is temporary. It is not going to cure your self-esteem for longer than probably a few hours. “One of the most common discourses around social media […], is that social media does bring happiness, but only of a fleeting kind” (Miller 200). Still, this feeling is addictive, of course. With wanting to receive attention however comes the worry, the what if I do not look good enough in this picture. Then you find yourself, just like I found myself many times, stuck in this cycle of trying so hard to look my best for a post, it in fact made me feel anxious and then the fifteen minutes of euphoria after the selfie receives enough likes for me to feel good about myself. “[…] social media may contribute to stress about how individuals present themselves to others’’ (Miller 203) .
Basically, you can not win, the Generation Y is always going to be criticized for their obsession with social media. The millennial Narcissist is no more than a lonely figure, performing their best self in this utopian system of the World Wide Web. And although our generation is often referred to as narcissistic, due to our lack of offline human interaction caused by having to work full time in order to pay for our education (and lives in general), and with the constant reminder that there is always someone better than us, we are empty on the inside. And so pretending to be superior in order to receive dozens of “double-clicks” is often the only form of self-acceptance we have.
Works cited and sources:
Syme, Rachel. "SELFIE." Medium. N.p., 19 Nov. 2015. Web. .
Groys, Boris. "Self-Design, or Productive Narcissism." E-flux, Sept. 2016. Web. .
Miller, Daniel et al. “Does Social Media Make People Happier?” How the World Changed Social Media, 1st ed., vol. 1, UCL Press, London, 2016, pp. 193–204, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1g69z35.20.
Lovink, Geert. "On the Social Media Ideology." E-flux, Sept. 2016. Web. .
Lovink, Geert. "What Is the Social in Social Media." The Internet Does Not Exist. Berlin: Sternberg, 2015. N. pag. Print.
Petit, Laetitia, Anne Boisseuil, and Sandie Iffli. "Adolescents And Facebook: Narcissus Without (An) Echo." Revista Latinoamericana De Psicopatologia Fundamental 18.4 (2015): 663-678. Academic Search Complete. Web.