I don’t trust people under 30 who don’t have Facebook. What are you hiding? Or, more likely, do you really think your life is so interesting and elusive to the rest of us that your profile will be the forbidden fruit of social media? Don’t get me wrong; I will stalk you, but more out of my boredom and a compulsive urge to scroll through the entire internet than your intrigue.
In one of the greatest achievements of #firstworldproblems I’ve ever seen, last November, an 18-year-old Instagram star quit social media and issued an emotional plea to her followers to disabuse themselves of the idea that her photos represented real life. “[Social media] is contrived images and edited clips ranked against each other. It’s a system based on social approval, likes, validation, in views, success in followers,” she lamented. “It’s perfectly orchestrated self-absorbed judgement.”
To that I say: Yes… and? You say it like it’s a bad thing.
Maybe when I was 18, my self-esteem was so fragile that I would have lost myself in a whirlwind of Insterwebs-derived validation from my 200,000 followers who failed to disconnect the dots between 72 high-def photos of donuts followed by a picture of me frolicking on a white-sand beach in a bikini. Probably because when I was 18 you could mostly find me holed up in the basement of a library in my pajamas, hopped up on three cans of Red Bull and my Neuroscience textbook, embarrassing myself in front of esteemed guests of the Jefferson Society, or, alternatively, crying into a half-cooked bucket Ramen noodles and cheese curls on the floor of my dorm room. Maybe if someone had paid me $2000 a pop to wear their designer clothes for a photoshoot, I would have stopped drunk-texting my ex and gotten my ass to the gym.
Now, I’m at least comfortable enough with my identity to announce the aforementioned to the world. I is who I is. No quantity of status “likes” or retweets or shares is going to change that. If you don’t like it, then why are you still reading? Unless you are just taking a perverse interest in me and using my life as a standard by which to measure your own sense of superiority. In which case, you are still giving me the attention I crave, so I’ll allow it.
As I said, I is who I is. And who I is really has no problem presenting a carefully curated version of myself online for profit. (Not that I make any profit.. yet. I’m working on it! I know there is a niche for marketing to somewhat goofy, hyper-cerebral short women in sparkly dresses.)
Recently I experienced the chupacabra of Internet schadenfreude: the ex-girlfriend of a guy I was seeing accidentally “liked” one of my Instagram photos. I could say this was not the single greatest moment of my life, and that actually, it wasn’t a big deal at all, and come on, people, I actually have hobbies and other interests to concern myself with, but I would be lying. The last I heard of this legendary fail, a friend had made a similar mistake and enlisted five of us to spend the next three days running experiments to determine how quickly one would have to “unlike” a photo in order for it not to appear in the other person’s notifications. (The results: if you have to google this answer right now, you’re SOL.) The irony, of course, is that the only reason I recognized her was that I had been perusing her account earlier that week.
But how do you compete with my Instagram account? According to my photos, when I’m not jetsetting all over the world in a tiny bathing suit, I’m bingeing on artisanal chocolate and foie gras and beef tartare. And when I’m not failing to exercise any modicum of self-control over my diet, I’m literally exercising, because #chickswholift and #strongisthenewsexy. Do you even lift? And in case you thought, well, at least you could still lord your intellect over me, watch out! Here comes the photo of my extensive collection of books, because I want you to know just how erudite I am. Oh, and here’s a picture of a puppy. And it’s got a funny, self-deprecating caption. Because screw you. Do you feel inadequate yet?
Maybe 70% of my social media is real. But I’m not pretending it’s not. Now might be the sensible point at which to issue the sage moral advice not to compare yourself to others. I.e. stop being human. In actuality, telling someone to avoid comparing himself to others is tantamount to asking her to liberate herself from her hundreds-of-thousands-of-years-old evolutionary trajectory. The predominant theory of human language posits that language evolved to serve a function disparate from other animal communication. As human social networks became larger and more complex, basic social behaviors like grooming were no longer sufficient to keep tabs on the whole group. Suddenly, there were members of the primate group who were doing stuff outside of your immediate view. After all, a monkey can’t tell another monkey that the first one’s monkey wife was fornicating with her side-piece monkey in the trees, but usually monkey tribes do all of their monkeying around in plain sight. Language evolved to fill the gap so that primates could convey to each other what was happening when they weren’t around. In other words, language evolved for storytelling, or gossip. One of the key traits that makes us crucially human–language–exists because humans evolved to be up in each other’s businesses.
Of course, just because something is natural doesn’t make it right. But running around blaring our foghorns of moral indignation over a phenomenon that has existed since the dawn of time, provided great benefit to our species, and is generally understood to be woven into the fabric of society doesn’t make a lot of sense either. No sane, informed, adult person should have any pretenses about what’s really going on. The underlying assumption in personal branding is that everyone, of course, is more flawed than they are willing to let on.
And if you think that seeking validation from the internet is wrong–which sort of presupposes that the internet actually has any real validation to offer–then fine. Guard your self-love and self-worth from the ceaseless trolls. In the mean time, if you know of a brand that wants me to model their athletic gear or drink their whiskey, please give them my number.