I am a comparer. My brain takes stock, ranks, orders, evaluates, all in the name of satisfying itself that I am doing it right, not disappointing anyone, keeping the peace.
These days, a lot of that chatter surfaces when I’m scrolling through Instagram and, to a lesser extent, Twitter.
I love IG. I don’t follow politicians or news outlets. I follow friends and activists and local businesses, all of whom are amazing and real and honest and not trying to sell themselves in a way that isn’t who they really are.
I stitch all the wonderful photos and stories and captions together to create a mutant Frankenstein’s monster of a person who does all the things and against whom I compare myself.
Especially now, with limited interactions in person—which is when it’s easier to see the chinks in peoples’ armor, when it’s possible to get stories about the shit in addition to the IG-worthy successes—turning to social media for human connection seems even more important. And fraught.
It’s always dangerous to project the online world onto the real world. This has been true since the beginning: everyone curates what they post, everyone whether consciously or accidentally has an online image that doesn’t exactly line up with their real life. Because, let’s be honest, following even our closest friends around through the mundane and quotidian would be incredibly boring. I remember the early days of MySpace and Friendster and Facebook, when the novelty of the platforms meant everyone was posting their status as if they were AIM away messages. “Erin is… tired.” “Erin is… working hard.” “Erin is… excited.” I mean, who cares?
(I realize with bemusement that the above dates me incredibly. It’s like when my parents talked about having to actually talk to an operator at a switch board to place a phone call.)
And now, with everyone sitting around home and finding ways to survive the pandemic, the online world becomes a surrogate for real connection in a way that hasn’t happened before. We post about our home workouts, our sourdough bread, our knitting projects, our kids homeschooling, our work-from-home setups, our quarantine projects, our new pets and babies. These are the images I try to make into a composite personality, and need to tell myself these are only pieces of what’s real. I’m thinking a lot about how I contribute to that, and want my accounts to be a breath of real air in the sea of perfection.
The flip side of comparison is indignation. I also see photos of groups and trips and no masks and signs of “normal” life and they contradict the decisions I’ve made about staying safe and limiting interactions. I cannot reconcile a raging worldwide pandemic with images of casual fun.
Like all images, I don’t know the whole story. Maybe they’re not images of irresponsibility. I don’t need to place those images in the context of my life and rank them. (Ok, but, people, please be careful!)
All I can control is what I post, what I consume, who I block and unfollow. It’s been important for me to use my words in this blog as a place to be real and imperfect and vulnerable, and I want my images also to match.
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