It was a Friday night, and instead of attending my school’s homecoming football game, I stayed home. I missed the cheerleaders, the dance team, the crazy loud student section, the dancing, the dressing up with friends, and the winning touchdowns. I missed it all. And not in the name of being anti-social.
I was tired. I had just been to practice and was sweaty and the only thing that sounded good was to go home. I had been through a week of stressful exams and athletic events. Even with a little seed of regret settling in my stomach, I decided I wanted a quiet night at home. I expected that seed of regret to grow as the night went on. And the thing watering it would be social media.
To find out what was going on with my peers at that football game, all I had to do was to turn on my phone and check Snapchat or Instagram. And I did just that. I scrolled through all of my friends’ stories, my eyes taking in the selfies and the loads of videos and snapshots from a social event I wasn’t attending. I saw almost half of the dance team’s routine twice. I saw one kid do a back tuck and everyone in the bleachers cheering for him, except I saw it from four perspectives, the same back tuck each time— but being filmed by different people. Watching that back tuck over and over again was the thing that made me stop watering that seed of regret in my stomach, and it grew into something new: understanding. I now better understand myself, and maybe my peers and my generation too.
Seeing these posts took me back to the last high school football I attended about a month ago. I had fun that Friday night, but not the whole time. I hung out with friends in the student section, but it was impossible to keep track of everyone. I found that my friends were running around, and the only time I could ever get them to pause was to take pictures with me. It was chaos trying to find people, and it also made me feel a little lonely, even in the biggest crowd. I would look around me and see some of the cliques of friends I wasn’t a part of, and would feel left out. It seemed like everyone had better friends to be with or better things to be doing that to stand next to me and have a genuine conversation. Though I understand football games are not great for deep conversations, I still craved friendship and conversation I wasn’t finding that night. In that chaotic mass of people, there were moments I truly felt small and even bored.
But if you took one look at my Snapchat story would you see all of that? No. You would see pictures of me and my friends looking like we were having the time of our lives. You would see videos of the dance team’s routine. And if some kid had done a back tuck, you would have seen my video of it.
My point is that I wore a mask that night. Though it was generally fun, there were some low points in the night. But I never showed my followers that. I never broadcasted the insecurity or boredom I felt, because that would mean slipping off the mask that made me look like I was feeling so accepted and having the best night of my life. The mask I wore was not reality, and it was not me then or me now.
Social media is just a tool. It can help us record the moments of our life and to keep in touch with our friends. It can also help us to fabricate a mask and glue it into place until it becomes a second skin, making it easy to lose the real person beneath it. Friendship can be mistaken for names tagged in photos; love can become a calendar in which we must update every waking minute of our relationship; any remotely interesting or cool event (like a football game) must be recorded to the fullest angle of a phone camera. Taking and posting pictures and videos can be fun in moderation, but letting them become a second skin is one sure way to block real experiences. It can be easy to hide ourselves behind the persona we give off on social media. It can be easy to judge others based on their personas on social media. Life’s true authenticity can be lost when we have to capture every moment and share it with the world.
Masks are everywhere. Are you wearing one, too?