An even deeper question must be asked about the performative mindset of the Facebook Eye. I would have photographed the coffee before cleaning it up — but would I have taken it a step further and spilled the coffee on purpose?
Probably not. But once you are aware of the shareable potential of your life, you wonder whether the things you do are things you actually want to do, or whether they are the things other people would like to see online.
I was well into my social media detox last summer when I took a trip to a new city with a group of friends and acquaintances. One guy was trying to grow a YouTube channel, and so, at every available opportunity, he would stick his camera in the faces of those around him, prompting them, “How much fun are we having!?” Most complied, smiling and woo-hooing for the camera.
But without his prompting, in these moments, we were not acting this way. We were waiting on sidewalks for our tour to start, talking to each other, probably a few people tuning out on their phones. The moment was humming along but not explosive with enthusiasm in the way the cameraman wanted it to be.
He annoyed me, but they say the things you dislike about other people are things you dislike in yourself. I recognized his impulses. He wanted good content, and if life wasn’t providing it, well, there is only so much editing you can do in post-production. Sometimes, you have to alter and direct your surrounding reality to fit your vision.
I don’t recall coaching others or shoving my camera in other people's faces, at least egregiously (I hope). But I was shoving the camera in my own face, in a way — I was manipulating myself to suit my narrative.
The lines blurred between what I actually wanted and liked, and what others Liked and Retweeted and approved of.
It makes me feel good to look at a beautiful sunset. But it also makes me feel good to get Likes for my photo of a beautiful sunset. How do these two motivations influence or subsume each other, and how do I know the difference between them? When it is not only sunsets but anything — your meals, your friends, your travels, the things you want to accomplish — and you pursue both these things and the digital representation of these things on a daily basis for years, it can be hard to untangle.
Who was I, when I wasn’t being watched?