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Looking for authenticity in a social media world

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MARCH 14, 2016

In a social media-saturated environment, college has lost a sense of authenticity and emotional sincerity. Rather than being in-tune with genuine experiences and real identities, we are left with a college culture of fabrication.

My least favorite fact about this is that I get sucked into it, too. We all pretty much do, no matter how indignant you may be that you don’t. I am constantly on social media, checking and rechecking, posting a fair amount here and there and have found myself worrying about how my posts are received. And this, perhaps, is the most depressing part of it all, for at times I feel helpless against it no matter how opposed to it I may be. I feel like a hypocrite. The truth is, if you don’t play this social media game, you get left behind.

Social media allows college students to separate themselves from their sincere selves and meticulously build a deeply conscious, deeply calculated image of how they wish to be perceived. Suddenly, people are associated with a particular “aesthetic” that they have successfully built for themselves based on the pictures, the statuses and the persona they have posted online, rather than with the actual inherent character that sparks and swells between their ribs that is waiting to be shared with others but suffers in ignored futility. They mask themselves in a self-made brand, commodifying themselves in a socially and professionally desirable way, whether that is making themselves seem hip, quirky, adventurous or hilarious. It is all utterly phony.

We feel the need to duplicate ourselves, split our identity in half and live in two separate universes that successfully diminish the wholeness of who we are. If I am both here and there, a concrete, singular idea of myself is evasive and complicated — nowhere to be found.

When people sit alone in their rooms, behind their screens, spiraling down into a troubling feeling of jealousy when they see a picture of their friend having “an amazing time” and then tormenting themselves over the exact caption, the exact filter and the exact smile for the picture they want to post to reassure people that their lives are also unbelievably awesome, they lose sense of a vital piece of existence. This behavior places a premium on the surface, the appearance of how things are, creating an outer shell to hide behind as the emotional, inherent stirrings that create the true human experience take a back seat. It makes the college experience a competition, it makes it superficial and, mostly, it makes it less real.

It seems like people believe that if something happens in the real world and isn’t documented in the digital world, then its existence is less valid. The phrase “pics or it didn’t happen” is said in a joking manner quite often, but it seems to have become a widely accepted truth. At concerts, events or social gatherings, people frantically take out their phones in an attempt to capture the moment so everyone knows they are doing something cool or that they have friends, effectively building up their social cache. Or, while studying abroad, I witnessed people so eagerly trying to take pictures of themselves in various iconic European locations so that they could show people that they’ve been to the Eiffel Tower and went on that gondola ride in Venice. But, through all these attempts at preserving and capturing the moment, the moment quickly passes by in evasive forgetfulness, as the deep, emotional fulfillment that could be gained by soaking in the moment is replaced by an image of emptiness. Potentially amazing times are turned into inauthentic representations of the human experience rather than being the concrete foundation of it.

For me, being a Daily Cal columnist this semester has made me struggle between authenticity and public — especially Internet — approval. It is easy to get caught up in the search for “likes” and recognition for something I wrote that has my face plastered on it. It is easy to make approval online and offline my goal. But, I have recently realized that feeding into that leads to inauthentic and superficial B.S. that leaves me hollow. It’s fake, and people see right through it. Now, when I sit down to write this every week, I write what is coming from within me at that particular moment in time, whether that be silly or serious, and not what might be well-received. I am doing something that I enjoy and that fulfills me in one way or another, regardless of whether or not a single person reads it. Social media has diminished this kind of mindset, as the search for validation online puts into question people’s motives for doing a particular thing. People “do it for the likes.” But, be real, in whatever it is that you do, and if that leads to popularity, then so be it. Take it or leave it. “Like” it or don’t.

For anyone who thinks I am spewing doomsday, cynical bullshit, I urge you to look around and listen. This culture is everywhere and it is a struggle that Millennial college students are forced to face, no matter how uncomfortable that is for people to admit. The actual truth is that the intangible, indescribable, authentic emotional pulses that beat on under the surface are the only realities, instead of desirable facades. For the sake of all of us: Keep it real.

Taran Moriates writes the Monday column on the dos and don'ts of college. Contact him at [email protected].

MARCH 13, 2016