St. Vincent Digital Witness, or Lies That I Tell via Facebook

by 12:01 AM 0 comments

Since this music video premiered (last week?), I've been meaning to write something about it, and now I feel like I'm too slow and I missed my chance to comment, which is so obviously and painfully ironic that I wouldn't write it if it weren't true.

First of all, I love the lines: "What's the point of even sleeping?/ If I can't show it, if you can't see me/ What's the point of doing anything?" Not because it's social commentary, but because it actually reflects how I sometimes think. When I do something new, part of the plan is always to take pictures and put them on Instagram. This helps motivate me to do things that I'm worried will totally suck otherwise, because even crappy experiences sometimes end with some good pictures.

Case in point: Amir and I drove up the coast to Half Moon Bay and stopped at a 'pick your own strawberries!' place on the way. It was windy, the strawberry patch was well picked-over, and the only joy it gave me was the reminder that I don't actually work on a farm. However. The pictures were good! And it made me look like a person who goes out and has adventures! I look so wholesome and happy, each picture from that trip tells a thousand lies.

Not only does social media motivate me to get outside of my comfort zone, I get annoyed when good taste or religious prohibitions get in the way of posting something. This weekend, I was at a United Synagogue Youth retreat with my advisees, and I couldn't even count how many times staff and students alike complained that they wished we could take pictures on Shabbat. There were so many great things happening that went undocumented because of that rule. It does feel like there's something missing when I can't post something important to me. I didn't post our honeymoon pictures because Amir and I wanted to keep them private, but sometimes I feel like the vacation didn't really happen because I don't see it on Facebook.

The St. Vincent line takes it one step further: why should we do anything that can't be digitally documented? It's often said that we're defined by our actions, not our thoughts. Social media is a way to make our actions known to a much larger circle of people than we would otherwise have access to. If I have the option to allow hundreds of people to know where I went to dinner and who I went with, why limit that information to myself and my dinner partner? Is there a greater intimacy or sincerity when the meeting isn't broadcast to the world? That's a pretty banal example, but it's what I'm typically grappling with.

The other line I love from the song: "This is no time for confessing/ I want all of your mind." Which ties into the aforementioned banality of most social media activity, Facebook posts in particular. Everyone is on Facebook, so what people post is mostly quotidian, especially designed to offend no one. Positive posts get more 'like's than negative ones (in my unofficial observation), so people tend to stick with positive messages. While posts often detail our lives very specifically, darkness is largely left out of social media. When a friend recently wrote a few posts expressing frustration, several people in our social circle worried that he was dangerously depressed. There's no chance to say "I'm angry, sad, alienated..." without setting off alarms, because that kind of writing is so unusual online. This is no time for confessing.

When I was younger, I used to have imaginary conversations in my mind when walking around alone. Most of these conversations were with my classmates in school, though occasionally they would be held in the distant future where I was being interviewed about my childhood before I became an Oscar-winning actress. Now I write pretend status updates in my mind explaining my current situation. Some are too mean, some are too personal, some are too boring, some are too sad. All of these pretend conversations and writings end up in the same place in the back of my mind. I'm not sure if it makes a difference what I'm not doing. Ultimately, the pretend conversations that impressed the popular girls and the pretend status updates serve the same purpose: the listeners/readers think I'm cool and funny. But when the people are really there, it comes down to more than "like" or silence; there is a range in emotional reactions and responses that Facebook can never replicate. In my imagination, though, it's all the same, single-minded admiration. Maybe that's why social media is so alluring: I never have to go pass the simple 'like' and wonder what people really think. In that way, Facebook has matched my daydream fantasy world.

Marina Gafni

Marina Gafni is a 28-year-old speech pathology student. She lives with her husband in San Jose, CA.


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