By Natalie Sochacki
Our lives revolve heavily around our cell phones. Undeniably, it starts before we even wake up in the morning, when our hands almost instinctively reach for them, eagerly taking in whatever was missed in five to eight hours of sleep. Frightening numbers are being assigned to cell phone use as of late—the average person checks their phone 150 times per day and spends 90 minutes or more on their phone per day. This totals out to around 23 full days in a year.
Just look around. Among the couples sitting down to dinner at a fancy restaurant, people bow their heads towards their laps, faces illuminated; during classes at school, students attempt to hide their averted eyes, their tapping fingers. During a baseball game, a concert, even while driving, people are on their phones checking Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, the weather, what’s happening across campus, what’s happening across the country—the list is endless. People are using their phones everywhere, all the time, and for everything. But more than anything, what keeps our hands clutched around our phones, our eyes glued to the screens, is each other.
Perhaps it all started with the venerable AIM and MySpace. Kids rushed home from school, running straight from the bus to their household computers to eagerly sign in to their profiles. For the first time, kids found the power to create a certain reality through their profiles. No matter how you looked or felt at school that day, you could always come home and reassuringly upload those pictures that you and your friends took at your mall photo shoot; you could always change your profile song to “Lollipop” by Lil’ Wayne to show how cool your taste in music was; you could take the time to write a perfect, witty message to your crush. For the first time ever, there was the ability to craft a life in a way separate from how everyone behaved at school, in a way everyone wanted to both see themselves and be seen.
Soon enough, use of these more original social networks declined, giving way to new social media giants like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. Home computers became laptops and smartphones, and slowly these profiles, pictures, and words became integral to how people all over the world presented themselves to one other; it became an outward show of identity. No matter how you put it, the people that are presented online with every upload, tweet, or snap do not correspond to their nearest realities. Those online personas consist of carefully curated representations. A word like curated, once used primarily for describing art exhibits and museums, has now shifted to describe how online identities come to be created.
So what are people selecting to show through their various social medias? Do people regularly display photos of a Netflix binge-watching session? Is it common to see updates and photos from when you last cleaned the bathroom or emptied the dishwasher? The best part about curating our social identities online is that we get to show the best parts of our day. And when creating our online identity, every post matters. A snap of a homemade dinner shows we can cook! A group picture at our favorite bar shows we know how to have fun! An article shared from the New York Times about a hot-button political issue makes us seem smart and informed! Posting an underground/indie/post-punk song demonstrates our elevated taste in music! Every post is a piece we use to create our story, to combine into our ideal picture of “me.”
But with this selected sharing, this created self, people tend to stop interacting with the most realistic versions of themselves. The person who spent the last Friday night reading their book, the person who misses their mom, and the person who wears nothing but underwear around the house after 5:00 PM, are all somehow lost, which begs the question, is this really us?
And what about everyone else? While we are busy selecting and adding and typing, we forget to recognize that each person we view online is doing the same thing; nearly every other person we meet is just as curated as we are. It’s hard to remember this when we are sitting alone in the library watching videos of people out at bars or having fun with their friends or partners. It’s hard to remember this too when you see pictures from a friend’s summer trip to Europe during the same summer you spent working at home. It’s (especially) hard to remember this when people post about their accomplishments—internships earned, job offers accepted—and you in turn feel diminished by your lack.
This is the common cautionary tale for the dynamics of the changing world we now face. In a time when we are connecting more and more with people online, when we are spending 23 days (or more) of our year on our phones, navigating the line between these two identities—online and real—becomes difficult. We forget about the reality that exists around the screen; we forget about the people that exist behind the profiles. As we continue to spend more time creating and comparing our online selves, we could find that in the end, we will start to feel more alone in our own reality.