g"Going to sleep together on different sides of the world, marvelous."
Click and you go to sleep.
You wake up the next day with the strange anticipation, something that could be described as butterflies in your stomach. What will today bring? Click. A good angle, a clever caption, click. Posted. You wait. Likes pour in, comments of praise and the one thing you have waited for:
“That’s a nice shot”.
Click, type, send. You respond, the interaction is there, almost real, just one click away from you.
Virtual interactions mediated by social media have pretty much become part of our dailiy life: everything from work meetings to dating and even sex could be easily performed accross computer screens and mobile phones. Time and distance have become distorted as data travels from one user to another covering up to 300 000 kilometers per second. The unimaginable speed and practically boundless ability to share yourself with others have unsurprisingly blurred the line between real and imaginary; human and virtual - many sceptics even go as far as claiming that the machines we use will consume us in the end.
But to put conspiracies aside, it is still very interesting to detach ourselves for a second and observe our own behaviour on social media: do our Facebook, Instagram or Twitter accounts define who we are? Do our personalities on these platforms differ from those we present to our peers at work or during leisure time? And, well, is it even real?
The world of social media is all about perception. While setting up virtual profiles we want to stand out, because, average does not cut it - we want to show the best life we are living. Virtually, we can be anything, so we tend to idealize ourselves on social media.
The ideal self put in limelight for everyone to see seeks one thing - validation. All the likes, comments, heart and fire emojis which we receive reassure us, validate us and drive us to post more - experts call it the positive-feedback loop. The mechanism is simple and follows the basic logic of human greed: online praise makes you happy for a short while and promptly leaves you wanting more. You post again, then again, until you unconsciously end up in the loop of endless sharing and liking.
The virtual validation also brings interactions - people who like what we post show up on our news feed and create a false sense of presence. We might not have seen them in months and years, maybe we have not seen them at all, but hey, they popped up on our screen and typed a few words to us! That’s already some communication, isn’t it?
Well, apparently, that is what we think. It is implied that virtual conversations have in many ways taken the place of face-to-face ones, forcing us to actually go out less: According to the research conducted by Rosen, face-to-face interactions have become the third method of communication behind text messaging and IM messaging in just a matter of a few years.
Sending a risky text and waiting for the response is becoming the new norm, as for personal encounters, I can recall awkward ones with people I thought I knew well from social media. And I am by no means alone in that.
And while we are at it, risky texts or visual content shared online can actually harm our real relationships and our well-being. Online flirting, for instance, as harmless and usual as it seems, is the new trend worth watching out for. There is even a name for it: thirst trapping. A thirst trap has already found its way to the Urban Dictionary and means “a sexy photograph or flirty message posted on social media for the intent of causing others to profess their attraction.” In an interview with Vice, internet personalities discuss the reasons behind posting explicit and risque images of themselves. Reasons cited are mostly external validation, maintenance of the fanbase, mental well-being in some cases, financial gain. Again, it is clear to see that some of us like to be looked at and rated - even if the response is not always what we want it to be.
Thirst traps posted by women often create false impressions and expectations. Twitter personality Cassandra Blackwell recounts the story of receiving 500 dollars on PayPal from complete strangers just to expose her breast in a picture. Well, she did not.
“I paid my overdue phone bill and donated the rest of it to Planned Parenthood.”
Though not all cases end like Cassandra’s. Actually, since the advent of social media and online dating, many women have been harassed with unwanted explicit pictures of strangers. So much so that Texas has responded with banning unsolicited pictures of male genitalia.
Despite the risks and occasional inconveniences people still engage in intimate interactions on social media. Why is sending and receiving nudes ever so tempting? This might be the reason.
Where do we, as individuals, stand in this pool of solicited and unsolicited, desirable and not so desirable information? Do the morning coffee and the tempting pair of jeans we expose define our personalities? It seems so. And yet it is worth remembering that our news feeds reflect what we choose to project to the world. Similarly, other people show us the faces they want us to see.
Social media might not be the devil’s device as some call it. In many ways, it is helpful and could even serve the greater good. But it undoubtedly changes the way we interact in real life; it changes our expectations. The trick to stay both safe and mentally stable is to remember the simple truth - it is virtual, it is imaginary. Often enough when we feel like oversharing and overtexting, it might be wise to sit back for a second and reflect if we really do need to text today. Maybe it is time to put the device aside and do the real talking? Let’s wonder while I go and scroll my Instagram feed.