Blurred photoshopped lines, carefully chosen emojis, self-directed Snapchat movies – the daily task of managing a virtual self is one that we don’t even think too much about anymore because the use of social media is second nature for our generation. Over the past few years we’ve become accustomed to using it, or at the very least seeing it used, in a very particular way. It’s free self-publicity, and we’re quickly learning how to make the most of having a second self to play around with who is often shinier and happier and far more composed than we could ever imagine our day-to-day selves being.
Do you ever find yourself making the same face as the emojii you’ve just typed, half trying out the emotion for size to see if it reflects or contradicts what you’ve just said, half of you didn’t even realise you were doing it and now you’re wondering whether you actually felt the emotion or the emoji, in fact, felt you?
We laugh now looking back at the stiff black-and-white family group portraits from years and years ago for their almost painful artificiality – with everyone in their Sunday suits and dresses and a child with a thunderous frown on someone’s knee – but all girls know the rigorous routine of the group photo on a typical night out. Demure smiles, colour coding, a nice blank background – almost as much care and planning goes into these photos as went into the old ones, and we’ll probably look just as ridiculous to future generations as they look to us.
Lads on the session are no different, if not worse, sheepishly posing with their pointed-gun hands hovering uncertainly over each other’s navels. We are less natural than ever; even our spontaneous photos have been engineered. We’ve become extremely self-conscious of our own image, more assertive when it comes to how we present ourselves and where our images will be displayed. Facebook and Instagram are the online galleries in which we curate our second selves; we are constantly aware of the eyes on the other side of the screen.
There are times when it feels as though we’re losing the ability to experience moments as they happen; the process of reflection beginning the second after the picture has been taken. Fun is captured and edited and captioned and saved. We’ve always had the urge to document and to preserve, but there’s just a different, driven kind of edge to it these days, which has to do with self-promotion and the desire to present a great exterior. We’re the first generation to really capitalise on that aspect of social media, and it’s hard to tell how it will affect us in the long run. Our sense of ourselves is shaped more than ever by comparison to others and by how much approval we get online, and that online self seems to only get more filtered by the day.