The Art of staging our lives on social networks.

I started using social networks over ten years ago.
Like many people, I started with Facebook, then Twitter,
followed by Instagram.
At the beginning, I was really oversharing my life.
In other words I used to post a lot of uninteresting things.
As the years went by, I realized that these things had to remain ‘private’.
And I started to use social networks mainly for my work
and the causes I was/I’m fighting for.

But in recent years I’ve begun to observe things that have fascinated
and saddened me at the same time.
It took me a long time to understand this, but I finally realized that we spend our time performing on social networks. (By using the word “we”, I talk about some people including me, not every person !)
Staging ourselves and, above all, making and posting a selection of what happens to us. We select the best events, the places where it’s cool to be, the prettiest looks, etc and we obviously present them in the best possible way.
Indeed, if you take the time to scroll through social networks for even 3 minutes, you’ll see that most of your contacts only publish the positive things happening in their lives. You’ll see posts like “My baby is walking !”, “I’m getting married !”, “I’m having a great night with my friends in a trendy bar” (well…before COVID!), “I just bought a house”, “I’ve been chosen for this job !”, “My work has been selected for this exhibition”…It’s a world where everything is fine and beautiful.
A wonderful Sims world where only death really reaches us.
It’s a fake world. As if the screen was the border between a world
without problems and a world with.
You log on — the curtains open : get ready to smile!
I’m talking about staging and art because, for me, from the moment we compose, we become performers and actors. And we think our relationships with social networks from this angle: showing the best, wearing a mask then going back to the backstage to become ourselves again.
To get back into our real life, once the computer is turned off.

Is it frowned upon to say on social networks that we’re not ok,
that we’re going through difficult times ? I guess it is.
Otherwise why don’t we do it (or almost don’t do it)?
Because I think that, as we are used to saying, we’re looking for likes, approval, attention and recognition. We seek to please others and above all we want others to envy us.
We want people to believe that we lead a perfect life.
And who’s going to like it if we say to our contacts that we don’t feel well,
that we’re going through difficult moments such as a break-up, a failure at work, a depression ?
Even when we have our close friends in our contacts list, we continue to pretend that things are going well. We must show positive content even when, in reality, we feel like crying every day.
It’s literally a lie.
It‘s like the people who don’t like to watch sad films because it reminds them too much of reality. They prefer films in which everything goes well.
You have to make people believe that everything is fine in the best of all possible worlds.

I say it again : I don’t judge because I belong to that category of people who stage themselves, who select the best of their lives for social networks.
In the most cliché example, I often take wayyyy too many selfies before considering one “correct enough to be posted”. And it always makes me laugh because I think that I don’t really look like that in reality (or very very rarely).
Yep, it’s true : I don’t live 24 hours a day with my mouth slightly open, a nice outfit, make-up on, a hand in my hair and I don’t live in a Vscocam world either.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite: you’re more likely to see me very dark circles around my eyes, wearing no make-up, with my hair barely combed, and an outfit more comfortable than pretty.
Also, in a more singular context, when I publish posts to announce my selection in exhibitions, do you think that I talk about my failures ?
About the rejections I receive, about every false hopes I have? Of course not.
However, I encounter many more failures than successes.
Besides, when someone congratulates me, in my head I often say to myself
“if only you knew…”.
Yes it’s true : I only show the positive side of my jobs.
I don’t show how hard it is to hold on, how I sometimes don’t sleep because I think of all the difficulties that my jobs generates.
On the one hand, I don’t want to talk about it because I don’t feel I can complain : I’m the one who chose to be a visual artist & a freelance photographer, it wasn’t imposed on me.
On the other hand, I think that I’ve really been influenced by this culture
where one isn’t supposed to speak publicly about one’s weaknesses.

And it’s quite strange because we might think that with a screen separating us from the others, it would be easier for us to confide in each other.
But it’s the opposite. We prefer that people perceive and love us through a composed image rather than they actually see what we really are, including our weaknesses and problems. But, and I think you will agree with me, it’s stupid to seek people’s approval on facts and images that are selected and/or not true.

Moreover, I think that showing our failures means recognizing our humanities. It’s accepting to show that we’re not perfect.
And it can also do good because it can also resonate with other people.
Last month, I published an article on the assault I lived 7 years ago.
It wasn’t easy to write it, and my heart was pounding when I clicked on the “share” button. I felt like I was leaving a page of my diary on the internet. Even though I knew that this article wasn’t going to be read by hundreds of people, I had this feeling of giving myself away.
And I quickly received messages that have been really helpful.
They made me understand that I wasn’t alone. People told me about my courage, some of them congratulated me. I wasn’t expecting these messages and it felt really helpful.
It wasn’t the first time I had talked about something difficult on social networks. I remember the day a cat I’d taken care of had died and how guilty I felt. I was so upset that I immediately talked about it and many of my contacts consoled me.

I’m not saying that you have to say everything on social networks.
We must never forget the limit between the public and the private life.
But I think we need to step back and learn to see them from a different angle.
They can be very harmful: imagine someone who sees most of his contacts pretending to have great lives, isn’t he going to feel sad, depressed if he considers that nothing good happens to him?
This can be harmful for these people, as well as for us, the people who stage our lives, because it can end up being a real obsession.
We’ll constantly tell ourselves that we have to show the best and we’ll never dare to show when we’re not doing well.
It’s even possible to see that in order to embody the perfect life on social networks, some people are even (un)consciously building their real lives around this purpose. Like going to a place to take a picture of yourself there and being able to say “I was there” on the social networks, even if you didn’t really care to be there. Isn’t that sad?
As if social networks have ended up influencing, controlling and dictating the lives of many users.

But, in my experience and what I’ve also seen for some of my contacts, it’s also through these same networks that one can get help, be comforted.
So why not being more honest and less artificial?
No matter how hard I look, I don’t understand this culture of selection.
I didn’t read articles about this subject because I didn’t want to be influenced for my own article. I only wanted to share my opinion. And deep down, I think that this staging is related to norms, standards. Over the last ten years or so, I think we’ve created through social networks; standars to which many of us submit.
And like in real life, if we don’t submit to these, we risk to be frowned upon. Maybe if we had refused the idea of creating an avatar from the beginning, things would have been different.

Other people, who are also very numerous, don’t publish much and don’t reveal either positive or negative things. And that’s fine too.

Everyone has their own use of social networks and I’m definitely not the right person to say how people should use them.
But I think that in this world, and especially at a time when our interactions are limited, we should all take a moment to think about how we use these networks, how we may be perceived and how we perceive what we see on them.

French visual artist