A quick scroll through my Instagram feed yields a few standout posts from my peers: an overhead shot of meticulously plated dessert, a throwback of an ocean sunset and a Gassongram in all its nighttime glory framed by lit trees. These pictures share some characteristics with some of the photos you might enjoy on your own feed, in that they’re carefully thought out, from the first angling attempt to the final crop, in hopes of garnering enough validation through likes.
While this in itself has been acknowledged as an issue, it’s really just a symptom of a larger problem. This past year, social media has come under fire as some popular users revealed the truth behind the pictures of their ostensibly perfect lives, admitting that the picture never gave the full story. They also disclosed how miserable social media made them. These sentiments are also prevalent among us common folks, as many of us feel compelled to partake in the underlying competition to show who is leading the best life.
On the other side of cyberworld are us as viewers of these photos. It’s easier than ever before to get caught up in the lives of others, as their pictures infiltrate many of the modern means of communication, from Facebook to Snapchat. We’ve started conversations about how constantly taking in social media plays up our insecurities because we compare the lives of those around us with our own realities. We’ve reiterated that these pictures are not representative of someone’s life. Yet there’s still another side to this that often goes untold.
While it’s true that people will choose to showcase the more picturesque moments of their lives, the real truth is that people don’t owe us more than that. Furthermore, we should not need more than that to understand that their lives aren’t perfect. In reality, apps like Instagram are meant to be used and viewed in one of two ways: a way to display and take in good photography, which involves using techniques to make scenes look better than they are, or a way to display and take in moments of life that were enjoyed. Sometimes the two purposes overlap, but any other value we assign to a photo is of our own volition. Social media is manmade, but so is the incessant competition we’ve made it into as we allow ourselves to believe that snapshots of moments in the lives of others can be a measure to which we can aptly compare our own lives.
Consider the pictures your parents have taken of you throughout the years for birthdays, graduations and outings. More than likely, they were the moments that excited them and made them happy; they were the moments they wanted to commit to paper and ink. Now consider the things that probably didn’t make it into the photo album: sleepless nights while you cried, days while you felt sick and teenage tantrums. Yet we know these were also very real parts of our lives even if they went undocumented. We recognize that each of our own pictures focuses on one aspect of one moment.
Similarly, we should understand that the things other people post on social media don’t show the whole picture, and we shouldn’t perceive it as such. That one’s life has less charming moments should be a given. For every photo of a Top of the Hub dinner, there were probably more than a few turkey dinners from Mac in between. For every plane ride taken to some fair-weathered island while the rest of us were buried in snow, there were also a few trips taken on the T that involved standing with ten centimeters of breathing space.
And that’s not to say that every time we see a nice picture, we should consciously think to ourselves, “Whatever, their life probably sucks in other ways.” Instead, we should take the photo for what it is--not a means of competition, but an appreciation of a moment that someone has decided to share. While we do not need to delude ourselves into thinking that people won't post things to curate certain images of themselves, we can refuse to make that our problem. By reframing our own perceptions, we can see pictures of well-crafted dinner plates, scenic landscapes and the finer moments of someone else’s life and enjoy them without immediately juxtaposing them to our experiences.