The other day I took a photo of an Orca (Killer Whale), not far off the coast of where I live and proceeded to post it to my social feed without comment. It’s a pretty good shot, right?
Let me list several problems with it—not as self-effacing humble-brags, but a deeper reflection on social media in general and how we perceive it.
- Yes, it’s a cool photo, but I literally took 836 shots before I got this one. Most were of the sky or the boat (it’s really hard to take a photo from a moving, rocking Zodiac). The 50 or so shots that had whales in them were mostly out of focus, except for 4-5. This shot may look great on my social feeds, but it doesn’t show the rejected shots or the amount of time it took to get one good one. So it’s a very curated look at what happened that day.
- Most days I don’t do anything nearly as exciting as taking a Zodiac out into the Pacific Ocean to see some Killer Whales. In fact, most days I don’t leave my house. Most days I spend my time at a computer (which makes for very boring photos). I only post to social media, especially photos, when something interesting is happening. Which isn’t often.
- In taking this shot, and the 836 other shots, I removed myself from being present, in the moment, and just watching some stellar and intelligent mammals which I’ve only seen a handful of times. All to get a photo I could post on social media. So instead of simply enjoying the moment and admiring these creatures swim beside and around the boat I was on, I was fiddling with my camera, changing batteries (3 times) and looking through a little viewfinder.
- In posting this shot, it helps build my personal brand of being a “gentleman of adventure” (something Chris Brogan called me, one time). When really, the most adventuring I do on a daily basis is filling my cup of coffee up to meniscus each morning, and hoping I don’t spill any.
- By refreshing my social feeds to see who likes this shot, I’m acknowledging my need for admiration from people I don’t even know, on the internet. This doesn’t make me a better person or even increase the revenue to my business. I just crave validation.
- By not adding a comment or giving context to the shot on social media, the post conveys that this is “no big deal” like I see whales every fucking day or something. Like, whatever and stuff. When really, I almost peed my pants I get so excited about whales and actually jumped up and down a little on the boat (getting excited and jumping isn’t “cool” though, so that’s never posted on social media either).
- By mentioning it’s pretty close to where I live in this article, I even give the impression that I live somewhere awesome, or somewhere better than you. When really, I live in a fairly remote location, so it takes an hour or more to go get groceries. The boring drive to the grocery store is never shown (nor my attempts to pick out the perfect pear).
- Not shown is the day before when I worked my ass off to make the money to afford to take a boat to see whales. Because working isn’t sexy, spending money is. (Making money is only sexy when it’s abstracted to some meaningless notion of making it while you sleep or eat vegan burritos.)
Yes, it’s just a photo, one of many on my feed, on one of two social networks I’m on. Yes, it’s not even the best shot (the whale isn’t breaching or spy-hopping even). But still, it made me think for a minute about why I wanted to take it, why I took it, and why I shared it in the first place.
Maybe the next time you take a photo and post it you’ll question your motivations as well. Or maybe you’ll think differently when you see a well-curated, edited shot from someone online and remember that their life is likely not all that or perfect. Better yet, maybe you’ll see some whales, jump up and down a little and be like, “FUCK YES, WHALES”. And forget you even have a camera or social media feed at all.
Hi, I'm Paul Jarvis. I write a weekly newsletter called the Sunday Dispatches where I share articles about working and living online with 35k subscribers: