The best gift I ever received as a child was a pink camera. I would line up all of my stuffed animals, take pictures of them, print them, and fill entire photo albums with pictures of Teddy Bears and Barbies. They always had lunch together, danced, and even married each other sometimes.
As I grew older, the Teddy Bear and Barbie pictures started becoming pictures of my friends. They were now flesh and bone, very real, very alive human friends. They could sometimes tell me to delete a picture because they looked bad in it, or grab the camera and take a picture of me instead. Lunch, dancing and occasionally getting married for fun slowly started fading away, while trying to look pretty became more important.
Looking back, I can say that that was the moment I became a teenager. Suddenly, everyone wanted to be on this thing called “Facebook”, and music videos became popular. People laughed at comedy sketches in their cellphones and I started to understand the concept of fame.
I did not see it then, but that was the digital world saying “hello, nice to meet you” to me.
And it did meet me.
It met the young, wide-eyed fourteen year old me, the artsy pictures, the kind birthday wishes, the stalking of a young, handsome, popular guy. It met the corny pre-relationship, the bad jokes, the search for the series “The Office online free”, met the post-breakup, “best ice cream places in my city”… even met the incognito mode to see what the word “orgy” means. It met the lame video challenges, funny cat video compilations, fan fiction… It met me and remembered my birthday and even knew which videos to recommend next. It met me good, and it met me real.
I remember the first time it hurt me, though.
A bunch of friends went to the movies without me, and they posted a picture on Facebook. “Why didn’t they invite me? They invited all the other girls.” Maybe I wasn’t as funny or kind or unique as the others… maybe I wasn’t as pretty. And I tried to prove them wrong. So I took some pictures to remind everyone I was pretty too… right?
And so it became the most important thing to constantly remind people I could look good.
I’m sure that my story is similar to most girls’ because nowadays social media is a popularity contest based on your measurements and brand of clothes… but it is interesting to look back and understand that it all started with a pink camera and a Facebook account. Later these became Photoshop and Instagram. And it was fun for a while, until it wasn’t fun anymore.
A couple of months ago I deleted my Instagram account in an attempt to detach myself from the digital world. It was naive of me to think an action so small would actually mean cutting all ties with social-based technology, but it was a good start. Even if social media is a toxic friend who puts you down and occasionally hurts you, it is also an amazing tool. That’s why I, you, us, we keep it. We play the game because it is convenient, and we get so much out of it that the consequences do not seem that bad at all.
As any other thing, in life, digital media (specially social media) is a double-edged sword. Yes, it is scary to grasp how much of ourselves is in the digital realm, but it can also be quite comforting. If we get lost, if we need something -anything-, if we need to remember, if we need to forget… it is all in our individual virtual history. If we want to inspire, sell, create, announce, share anything, we can.
Social media is the closest oncoming that I have had with digital media in general, but throughout my life I have always been around it. I used to study film, and now I study design. Both careers require some level of technological knowledge. I am very grateful because different digital media techniques expand the limits of creativity. Being a young adult I realize when reflecting about the beginnings of my personal experience that I am consumed by technology. The millennial cliché is real, and it is scary and fascinating at the same time.
What started out as Barbies and Teddy Bears having lunch together could really end up being anything… and I still have to figure out what that is.