In the spirit of adventure, hop in your car and let the road ignite beneath its wheels! Arrive someplace new, shrouded in a cloud of dust and mystery. Only reveal your identity in bits and pieces to those lucky enough to catch your enigmatic eye! You’re free from any limitations from who you were in the past, and you can make yourself into anything you want in the present and future.
Well, but then there’s Facebook.
Most of the mystery or ‘freedom’ easily disappears by typing a name into its search engine. People’s pasts are displayed for all to behold, braces and prom photos included. Viewers glimpse into your life and effortlessly gauge what kind of person you are based on your photos and posts. But viewers sometimes forget how people carefully construct their social media presence to portray an image that might not match reality.
Mark Shrayber wrote an article called, “Woman Expertly Uses Facebook to Fake an Entire Vacation,” about a woman, Zilla van den Born, who did just that. She explained her motivation, saying, “I did this to show people that we filter and manipulate what we show on social media, and that we create an online world which reality can no longer meet.” She continued, “My goal was to prove how common and easy it is to distort reality. Everybody knows that pictures of models are manipulated. But we often overlook the fact that we manipulate reality also in our own lives.”
In an age where people represent social media empires, she makes a strong point that we constantly warp our online presence to fit our idealized versions of ourselves. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter allow you to appear how you want to be seen. However subtle, we all have filters — we filter what we choose to post, or not post.
For instance, everybody knows you blink — it’s not humanly possible to keep your eyes wide open all the time — so why is there the urge to delete that group photo someone tagged you in because you happen to be blinking?
So we edit, adding or deleting the things that do not promote how we’d like to be seen. We highlight the concerts, vacations and parties, but hide the less post-worthy blanks in between that are filled with classes and work. Social media almost functions as a social resume, proving to everyone our qualifications. As students enter college and interact in an environment where everyone’s social position is up in the air and fluctuating, the pressure to manipulate their image is evident by the number of selfies hijacking newsfeeds.
What we forget, when composing our alter egos, is that there is always a collision between the real and idealized version of a person. You meet a person and gain an impression of her. Then, you encounter her online personality and gain a different one. Which perception is accurate and how does your overall impression combine the two?
How you want to be viewed tells a lot about who you are. The image may or may not match your actual personality, but either way it reveals a lot about you and how you want to be seen.
We have an obsession with escaping ourselves — that’s nothing new. We are continually in the process of reinventing ourselves and presenting ourselves differently to others, and many generations before us have found different ways to do this. Although social media definitely provides new tools, people have always been fascinated with the idea of creating a new or enhanced identity for themselves.
You aren’t a new person, though, simply by pretending you are. People certainly evolve throughout their lives, but evolution involves internal change, not just an attractive profile photo or a new place to call home. Jake Barnes, the protagonist in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, tells his friend, “Listen, Robert, going to another country doesn’t make any difference. I’ve tried all that. You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There’s nothing to that.” As he points out, you can’t escape yourself, whether you flee to social media or far away places.
Superficially enhancing the reality of who you are by putting up a social media front might be tempting, but it doesn’t bring you anywhere closer to that person you represent online. Reality and fantasy always merge. Like Jimi Hendrix croons, “And so castles made of sand, melts into the sea eventually.”