Social media is now a certified way of life for my generation. But I worry- are we consuming it, or is it consuming us?
This morning, whilst I sat in one of the many independent coffee shops in Brighton, I found myself mesmerised by the young couple sat in front of me. Probably in their late teens, they sat eagerly awaiting their coffee and food. When it arrived, what ensued I can only describe as a carefully pre-meditated and scripted adjusting of plates, angling of coffee cups, and catalogue of poses. It was remarkable. They worked like clockwork, simultaneously taking pictures of their food and of each other. The whole performance probably took around 5 minutes, by which point, the piping hot coffee could be comfortably slurped.
When my own coffee arrived, I also decided that it is not enough for me to be buying and drinking this coffee. No, I must share it with my online ‘fans’. My followers, people whom I am friends with, or friends of friends with, or friends of friends of friends with. None of them care about my coffee. I know this. Nor do I really expect them to. Then why, without fail, when I am presented with a beautifully crafted flat white, do I find myself instinctively reaching for my phone to capture this one off and truly momentous occasion? Why do I then carefully select an Instagram filter, one which perfectly complements the colour tones of the coffee froth? Why were this young couple photographing avocado on toast like it was something of unparalleled beauty? The truth is, well, we want to. But it is why we enjoy showcasing the small and largely irrelevant moments of our lives that fascinates me.
I would not consider myself egocentric or narcissistic (she says while writing unapologetically about her own life). And I do not believe that everyone who regularly updates their social media necessarily obtain these personality traits. But I worry as a generation that we have become too obsessed, too focussed, on documenting our movements, our food, our day to day lives, that we sometimes forget to just live them. I always like to imagine the aftermath of the ‘pumpkin pickers’ and ‘sunflower field’ pictures. Have we got to the stage where people visit places specifically so they can document the occasion on social media? If so, what happens when the photos are taken? Is life now a staged photoshoot, with undocumented moments just providing superficial padding to the golden snippets of our day which can be uploaded onto social media?
To be in the moment is a wonderful thing. To be immersed in a conversation, in music, in a book, in anything, where your mind wanders and finds itself in the dusty corners of your subconscious which are often neglected, is kind of magical. Far too often we are more concerned with how others view our lives, than how we live it ourselves. The phrase ‘if you didn’t post about it, did it really happen’ comes to mind. Why, and when, did this start? Is it a generational thing? Is it a new wave digital media phenomenon? Is the desire for acceptance and recognition from our peers a deep-rooted societal ideology, which social media just allows us to conform to so easily? Instagram has roughly one billion users. That is about 1/8th of the entire population, which when you think about it, is quite astonishing. Of course, not all of those 1 billion users will be those who post pictures of their extra hot skinny, oat milk latte with sugar free syrup. But it fuels the argument that, as human beings, we like other people to know what is going on in our lives. We thrive on it. And this time of year just highlights that.
So, will I stop taking pictures of every coffee I order in a café? No, probably not. But am I determined to ensure that I continue to live an authentic life, one which is not curated to be seen through a phone screen? Yeah, I would say so. And I encourage you to do the same.