Georgina Guedes

You don’t have to highlight the bad stuff

2014-09-23 10:14

Georgina Guedes

Did you hear the one about the Dutch girl who fooled her friends and family into thinking that she had gone to Southeast Asia, then posted photos of her trip on Facebook, but the whole thing was a lie?

Zilla van den Born edited herself into various images she’d found online and visited the only Buddhist temple in Amsterdam to complete the charade. She even had Skype sessions with her parents, convincing them she was in a hotel room by placing decorative items on the wall behind her.

The purpose of her little adventure was to show the world how the realities that we create on social media may not be all that real. Various publications around the world are holding up her experiment as proof of how fake the online reality that we participate in can be.

I’ve been hearing this sort of sentiment a lot lately. Articles and observations abound concerning the fact that the stuff we put on social media isn’t a true reflection of what’s happening in our lives. Our kids aren’t that clean, our houses aren’t that tidy, and we never really had that much fun on our holiday.

Do you really think we’re faking it?

It surprises me that people have to be told this. I struggle to believe that everyone I interact with online needs to be reassured that my dogs are sometimes naughty, that my kids sometimes bash each other or that I wake up with puffy eyes and messy hair.

Of course we’re not publishing those photos or talking about those life events. People don’t go on holiday and choose to post the blurry photo of the disappointingly rainy day (unless they’re specifically griping about it). They post the ones that say: “Look what a fantastic time I’m having. That was money well spent!”

This kind of selective communication has always taken place. It’s not a social media phenomenon. We put our nice photos in albums, we send our families Christmas letters about our happy and successful moments in the past year, and we tidy our houses before our friends come to visit. This isn’t deception; it’s social appropriateness.

The people I know who gripe endlessly about their jobs, their families and their love lives are tiresome on social media (unless they’re really funny). I feel far more resentful of the “notice me” attention-seeking of the permanently downtrodden than I do about the positive highlights of my friends’ lives.

What I believe when I see

When a friend shows a photograph of their beautiful child plucking daisies on a spring morning, I don’t think that they’re trying to fool me into believing that’s their whole life. I imagine that they, like me, were delighted that they had a smart phone ready on the occasion of the rare confluence of cleanliness, happiness and a good backdrop.

I don’t believe that the positive people on Facebook are never sad, never have smudged makeup, never feel rage and are never untidy. Of course they do, they just choose not to share it on a public forum. And you know how I know about the less photogenic moments of their lives? Because I’m their friend, and I talk to them. 

So Zilla van den Born makes a fair point: You can fool people into believing anything if you’re willing to use props and Photoshop, and lie. Con artists do this sort of thing all the time. But all the other people who are just updating their friends on their daily joys and achievements are simply dwelling on the positive, and that’s a good thing.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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