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The double-edged sword of social media
If you’re reading this, chances are high you’ve clicked over from Instagram. I use that social platform all the time. I’m also a social media manager in my day job. Despite – or maybe because of – the fact that I do these things, I no longer have any personal social accounts. I very rarely use my Sara Thomas Facebook account. I haven’t tweeted in almost a year. My Instagram is a public page where I focus on making connections with people I don’t know in real life (although I’ve met several people I would like to!). Honestly, I feel like I don’t know how to use a personal page anymore.
In the Pedigree series, I write about social media, Instagram in particular, fairly frequently. Early in the series, Poppy is an Instagram influencer with somewhere between 60-80K followers. She doesn’t use the account for income, aside from freebies. The account mostly serves to make her family roll their eyes (in the best case scenario) and to deeply hurt their feelings at worst.
As Poppy is a T.S. Eliot superfan, I refer back to The Cocktail Party at times throughout the series. In Where We Start From, she discusses these lines with her son: “We die to each other daily. What we know of other people is only our memory of the moments during which we knew them. And they have changed since then. To pretend that they and we are the same is a useful and convenient social convention which must sometimes be broken. We must also remember that at every meeting we are meeting a stranger.”
There’s also a lot of talk of filtering – not just using VSCO to make yourself look good, but filtering your life the way you want others to see you. Poppy uses her Instagram account to make her life look perfect. Yes, she’s well off and privileged in a lot of ways, but she’s deeply unhappy. Her husband is rather out of control. Her children actively dislike her. So, she posts airy pictures of the foursome, the kids dressed like her, herself and Stephen out on the town.
Of course, one doesn’t have to be on social media to filter themselves. I’m pretty sure T.S. Eliot had never heard of social media, and said cocktail party was not a Facebook Live event. Stephen’s actions in the series are arguably worse, and they made him just as miserable as Poppy was despite her thousands of fans. He presented the version of himself in person that he thought everyone wanted, and this ends up leading to his untimely and tragic demise.
I think in this day and age, the type of falsifying that Poppy does is more common than outright lying about who you are. In 2021, if you lie about your background or location or name or whatever, the mean Internet will find you out and expose you so quickly. But the ‘behind closed doors’ type of filtering? I think that’s something we see all the time without realizing it. I follow dozens of accounts like Poppy’s fictional one (nb – she is not based on any real Instagrammer). My Instagram feed is the most beautiful and elegant place I’ve ever seen, and life is not like that. I’m not sure this type of filtering is even necessarily lying. I think the way a person wants to be perceived can be an enormous insight into what they’re actually like.
So, yes, Instagram is for sure a highlight reel. Is Instagram (or social media in general) terrible and fake? I don’t think so. Clearly, I’m on it. I mentioned previously about how I overdress for everything. That’s just the surface of often feeling awkward and out of place. There just aren’t a lot of people locally who share my interests. Oft times, the other playground moms are a little standoffish toward Fair Isle Lady. Honestly, it can be very lonely. I left a very large and tight-knit social network (the in-person kind) when I moved here, and it’s difficult/impossible to replicate that when moving as an adult.
Instagram and the website have been a lot of fun for me to connect with people who have similar interests. I’ve found endless inspiration for the house, supported a lot of small businesses, and have struck up some online friendships that are meaningful to me and not fake at all. At least, I don’t think they are. It’s hard to imagine catfishing someone to talk about sweaters and wallpaper, but who knows?
I think social media does have a lot of value when used correctly as a tool for making connections or sharing something you’re passionate about. I’m grateful to be finding an audience for my work. I think one just has to keep in mind that it’s not anyone’s complete reality, no matter how much it seems to be.