Why your most personal moments are too precious for Instagram – RN


Posted

December 15, 2018 06:00:00

Art critic Sebastian Smee has a message for all social media users this Christmas: it’s OK to be alone with your own thoughts.

“We live in this culture where everyone thinks that everything can be shared, and a big part of me wants to resist that,” says the Australian-born, Boston-based writer.

“I think there are very precious parts of ourselves that we don’t need to try to share.”

For Smee, it’s these ‘precious parts’ of ourselves — the thrills, despairs, yearnings and deep-seated insecurities — that make us distinct from others.

They reach beyond external perceptions of us, and speak to the essence of who we really are.

But these inner parts are often the most difficult to verbalise, especially on online platforms.

Despite the obvious difficulties in conveying our deepest emotions, we all know — through social media — that plenty of people give it a shot.

Most of us have a friend who chooses to celebrate their child’s every move on Facebook; or perhaps it’s an acquaintance who digs deep each Mother’s Day, penning a gratitude letter to their mum on Instagram (even though said mother doesn’t have an account).

Sebastian Smee doesn’t want to “pour cold water” on the sharing of positive moments online.

“There’s a huge amount that’s been gained today by our willingness and our encouragement of each other to share things,” he says.

But he does warn there is a flipside to oversharing.

When expectations and reality don’t match up

In the latest Quarterly Essay, Net Loss: The Inner Life in the Digital Age, Smee looks at the disparity between our inner selves and outer representations.

He writes:

“Our inner lives are … swollen with tangled knots of narrative, with feelings and hurts and elaborate, fantastical dreams, which can be as enduring as mountains or as fleeting as clouds … So it is hard to look at our Facebook feeds and match what they show us with everything we feel ourselves to be.”

But angst doesn’t solely come from our inability to express ourselves, it can also be triggered by underwhelming responses from our online ‘friends’ and followers.

This ‘expectation versus reality’ paradox is nothing new.

It played out — quite literally — on a split-screen in the 2009 indie rom-com 500 Days of Summer.

The film follows Tom, a greetings card-writer and hopeless romantic, as he tries to work out what went awry in his seemingly perfect relationship with an ex-girlfriend named Summer.

Of course, we discover throughout the film that Tom only thought his relationship was perfect. There were signs suggesting the opposite; he just chose to ignore them.

In one scene towards the end of the film, these disparate narratives unfurl side-by-side. On the left, we see Tom’s expectations (rekindling his romance with Summer); on the right, the reality (he finds out she’s engaged to someone else).

What Chekhov can teach us about oversharing

The mismatch between expectation and reality rears its head in Russian literature, too.

In Smee’s Quarterly Essay, he draws on Anton Chekhov’s short story ‘The Kiss’, which centres on a soldier whose life has been devoid of romance.

“He’s at some party where he doesn’t even feel he really belongs and, by accident, he gets kissed in a dark closet by a woman who actually thinks he’s someone else,” Smee explains.

“It’s a really extraordinary moment in his life and he’s so moved by it and he wants to tell everyone about it.

“He finally gets around to telling his fellow officers and I think the response is basically, ‘Uh OK, pass the salt, please’.”

Of course, such blatant disinterest isn’t as tangible on social media, but receiving fewer likes or comments than expected can lead us to question the worthiness of the experience or emotion we were sharing in the first place.

While these interactions can be dispiriting, Smee says they also offer us strength in the face of our own mortality.

“In the end, we’re all ultimately alone and I think that’s something that is OK to acknowledge and pay heed to,” he explains.

“A lot of the great art and music and literature that I love taps into that — the part of us that is OK with our own solitude.”

But on the whole, Smee says those fleeting glances into our inner self won’t come from spending time on social media.

“[They appear] when we’re listening to music or walking through the city at night or standing by a window,” he muses.

And, if all else fails, there’s always Chekhov.

Topics:

ethics,

community-and-society,

books-literature,

mental-health,

internet-culture,

self-help,

religion-and-beliefs



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