While talking to a close friend over the Christmas holidays we both laughed at how the world we present on social media can be so different from the life we are actually living. And when I say laugh, I mean laugh hysterically.
Let me give you some context; we have known each other over thirteen years. In the days before social media we worked together and lived around the corner from each other, close enough to borrow a cup of sugar, that close. We knew what each other’s lives were like because we were living our lives alongside each other. She knew what I looked like first thing in the morning as she would pick me up for work. I knew what her Sunday dinner looked like because she cooked for me. She knew what my cocktail looked like on a night out in town because she was matching me drink for drink. I knew what her attempts at gardening looked like because I saw her hanging baskets when I knocked on her door. There was no Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat. We knew what the good in our lives looked like, and the bad.
Then we both took leaps of faith and left the UK at the same time to teach in different countries. No regrets from either of us, I think I can safely say, but my point is we were no longer living in each other’s pockets and the internet became our international way of keeping in touch; mainly emails at first, then Bebo (anyone remember that?) and then of course Facebook came along.
Our discussion over Christmas was mainly focused on Facebook and the way we choose how we want to present our lives to other people. We make a decision what to post and what to say and in our minds how we want our audience to perceive our lives.
The audience; here is a crucial point in this discussion. For me my Facebook audience is made up of family, close friends, former work colleagues and old university and school friends. These are people who you only want to see the best of your life. You post the photos of your children smiling and laughing. You post the statuses showing off where you are, what shows and films you are seeing. You share your location when you are on a beautiful beach, in a fancy bar or on a picturesque holiday. It’s human nature. You want them to know your successes and to think you are doing well.
Well, the reason my friend and I were laughing so much discussing this is that we were, for the first time since we left the UK ten years ago, living together for four weeks. And not just us, we had multiplied! Now we were both married and had two children each, so that was eight of us living together for a month.
Our Facebook timelines did not show the toddler tantrums, the messy meal times, the refusals to go to bed. They did not show the bags under our eyes in the mornings after being woken three times in the night. They did not show porridge smeared on the backs of our pyjama pants where we had sat in the remainder of chaos after breakfast time. I’m quick to say, we KNEW all about this because of course we chat about it on Whatsapp or iMessage regularly, but we hadn’t SEEN it. But we didn’t KNOW about it from the manufactured lives we make for social media.
When I was considering writing this blog post I said to myself, “right, the next bad, normal day I have I will take some pictures to document it.” Today was kind of one of those days. I check my photostream. Only one or two photos. The reason? It’s thoroughly depressing to record the tantrums, the whining, the mess. You think to yourself, “Nobody wants to see that!” The other reason is that when you’re having a tough day you don’t have the time or energy to stop and take a photo. Today I felt like I was fighting fires with children bickering on a rainy day and me suffering from sleep deprivation. The last thing on my mind was to reach for my phone and take a photo of the chaos.
I am of an age where I can remember life without social media. It is a huge part of my life but I know what it was like before it. I can look at photos on social media with a critical eye and question why someone may have posted that particular shot, cropped it that way, added that filter. I know because I do it myself. There is a generation behind me however who know no different. The culture of sharing their lives is somewhat innate and it raises too many for questions for me to pose or answer here. And before you think this is one of those posts that is going to slam millennials, you’re wrong. I’m merely expressing a curiosity as to why we feel a need to do this and what it means for the future. How do we ensure that people do have the ability to read between the lines of what is presented to them on social media?
So if Facebook for me is my idealised life then Instagram is my coffee table glossy book life (complete with an index of hashtags), Twitter is my stream of consciousness and Snapchat is the god awful truth, after all it disappears after ten seconds never to be seen again (unless someone screen shots it!). These are the versions of my life online. I am glad my best friend got to see my real life for a month. It was no surprise to her.