I was sitting on my roommate’s bed one night talking about some real life issues, like the state of a pimple that was ruining my life because I couldn’t post selfies that week. As vain and idiotic as that sounds, the conversation led to her saying something very true. Our social media presence is a portrayal of our most decorated selves.
And when I say decorated, in my case at least, I mean breaking into the Tower of London, stealing the crown jewels and spending way too much time trying to incarnate in me the gay version of Princess Diana that I have always dreamed about.
It might sound like a strange thing for a gay boy to want to live up to, but when you stop and think about it, my fantasies of becoming princess Gayana is not that far-fetched. After all, did it not all start with her? Was her story not the very origin of our obesession with the media and the power it wields, transcending national borders, and in fact all borders of privacy and personal space?
It is easy for some of our seniors to criticise the fact that our smartphones have become an extension of our arms. If I had a one rand for every time my eyes did back flips into my scull when any slightly older person said something typically dad-like about how “us youngsters” have no social skills, I would probably be able to afford a real diamond encrusted tiara. But what escapes their notice is that the key to what we do on our phones is the social part of social media. We simply interact differently.
The concerning question is not only on how much time we spend glued to screens, but also, and perhaps even more strongly, how well we actually match up to the expectations we create of ourselves. When do you cross the line that separates your most decorated self to portraying a fantasy? And no, I do not mean to refer to the extremes of catfishing (see aforementioned comment about a psyche test). I mean to shed some light on the boundary between a healthy and uplifting online presence and when we start fooling ourselves and our followers.
One particular case comes to mind. There was a boy I started following a while back who hooked me by the balls as soon as I started stalking his feed. He was a proper bad ass; tattoos, shaved head, hot scarred body...everything you could want in a creative rebel dreamboat. And then came the bitter disappointment. When I got around to meeting him for the first time, he was just another shy, self-conscious queer, plagued by the unrealistic standards we uphold. Needless to say, I was no longer as interested in sweeping him off to a prison-themed happily ever after. This incident got me thinking about how much this was happening out there and how many of the hotties and gaylebrities I have been following are suffering from the same condition. Naturally, I had to also turn the lense to myself, and upon some introspection I was found wanting by a jury of my own multiple personalities. I was certainly guilty, on more than one count, of being very well spoken online with the help of emojis, selfies, memes, finding the perfect lighting every time, but then when it came to actually speaking to the very same people I had been trying to impress, I was often shy and that same slightly pathetic kid from a small homophobic town in Limpopo.
I have two main concerns. The first one asks, could it be that we do in fact have underdeveloped social skills in some shape or form? Something that older generations simply understand better through not having grown up with social media?
By disappearing into the comfort of our phones there is a valuable social interaction we might be missing out on: the concept of losing and saving face in the immediacy of physical interactions and verbal conversations. Could we slowly be evolving into a culture of people who do not know how to think on their feet and converse in the now? A language of delayed responses and awkward silences once the phones are out of battery, stolen or put aside for whatever reason?
The second issue is that we are at risk of overcurating our feeds and playing too much into our fantasies of being the it-girl wearing the wedding dress that depleted England’s stocks of ivory silk taffeta, and placing too much pressure on ourselves to match archetypes that simply are not very realistic. Now, my social media activity levels spike when I am single and on the look out for hook ups and possible new boyfriends. And with our dating apps being connected to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, the culmination of all of our profiles online make up the first impressions of what any of those potential lovers will see. And that is the danger zone.
It doesn’t matter if you initially meet on Grindr, Tinder, Surge, Manhunt, Gaydar, Zoosk, Scruff or any of the god knows how many LGBT dating apps there are out there. It takes a name and a surname and then the whole anthology of narratives you put out there of yourself is readily available. As a rather small and grossly intertwined community in any given geographic location, gays are already flighty and easily distracted sexually, which means that it’s damn hard to catch a man as is. So now, think about what you are letting yourself in for when you create that shiny idealistic image of yourself. Are you making yourself sound just a bit better than what perhaps you are by conveniently hiding away all of your flaws, or playing into a character that is not perhaps the most honest version of who you are?
Are we setting ourselves up to fail by influencing that most important first impression too much? Are we taking away the thrill of the hunt and getting to know each other face to face, across the dance floor, or wherever you choose to meet the meat?
My tip, and I have been preaching this concept in so many aspects of my life recently, is honesty. Be your decorated self, yes! By all means, yes. But also filter it with something that is a bit more real every once in a while. Let those freckles show, try not to be upset about every pimple, and just let the juices splash where they will from time to time. It is often the little flaws people have that especially compliment their better features and makes others comfortable to be around them. Our self image is such a complex topic, but I refuse to be controlled by insecurities and only start to let them go once all of my youth has been spent. Work with what you have, love thyself, and others will love you back. Mix enough of what is real and honest into your online persona, and in turn let your Princess Gayana influence your confidence in real life.