At his talk on campus yesterday, Bo Burnham brought up the culture of self-documentation that has become so specific to our generation.
Burnham’s film, “Eighth Grade,” follows a young girl, Kayla, as she navigates her social life, social media and sense of self as she approaches the start of high school. The catch, however, is that these three areas aren’t mutually exclusive in 2018. Finding one’s sense of self, or their “truth,” has in part become performative due to the demands of a culture so invested in social media.
“The attempt at performed public truth, to me, is the truth at the moment,” Burnham said. While he may have joked that this can sound like existential nonsense, this statement struck a chord with me.
This conflation of sense of self and one’s social media presence has become ingrained in youth culture and follows us into college. The way we express ourselves on social media translates as a direct reflection of the core of who we are, whether it’s in a selfie on Snapchat, a politically driven post on Facebook or a conversation in the comments on Instagram.
When you first meet someone new, it has become habit to check out their social media accounts shortly thereafter. What we find then quickly frames our assumptions about that person and thus has given way to a generation obsessed with curating our social media so that it exhibits only how we want others to see us. But social media can only go as far as to provide a two-dimensional snapshot of our lives, inevitably omitting so much of what makes up every three-dimensional person who has set foot on this campus.
Author John Green has said that we must imagine others complexly. This is more important to remember now more than ever before, especially as we scroll through online feeds that serve to streamline and simplify everything we share.
Despite the obvious cliche, Burnham was right when he said college should be a time to find ourselves — what we believe in and what we stand for. This period in our lives is a pivotal time for growth and self-reflection, and very few people remain unchanged after four years on this campus. The way we evolve as people comes as a direct result of everything we experience during college, most of which cannot be shown in one online profile or validated through likes. Documenting your experiences to share over social media is not inherently bad, but it takes away from focusing on making meaningful connections with those around us.
All of this is ironic, as part of my job as digital editor is curating Pipe Dream’s social media accounts to best express this newspaper’s “truth” in photos and captions. The social media currency of likes and follows are valuable to my sense of success in this role. Yet, when I log back into my own social media accounts, I always try to take a step back and remind myself that the person I am (and want people to know me as) can only shine offline.
Next time you see me around, rather than looking up my Instagram handle, I hope you come over and say hello instead.
Jillian Forstadt is a junior double-majoring in English and political science.