The Mitty Effect

I think everyone has experienced The Mitty Effect. If you do not know what this is, it’s probably because I just made that term up. It is inspired by the movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, one of the best films I have ever watched. The story is about a guy named Walter Mitty. Like most of us, Mitty has a pretty average life. The one interesting thing about him is that he works for Life magazine (similar to National Geographic), which means that he gets to see amazing things every day. He is the person behind the screens and photography editing, making sure that the cover photographs are printed perfectly. Around the office he is known for being a day dreamer, always working with amazing stories from afar, but never actually doing anything interesting. This being said, I define The Mitty Effect as the thoughts that constantly sneak into our minds before we sleep. That half-awake, half-asleep desires or fantasies that we get when we listen to a certain song and we imagine it as the background music of a certain scenario or the stories we make up in our heads when we are bored. The one catch is that for it to actually be called Mitty Effect, it has to be something that you consider impossible, even if this is far from the truth.

I have felt this way countless times, which is why when I saw “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” I felt so identified and touched. I realized that the root of these dreams is social media, specially Instagram and in earlier years, Facebook. It is very strange, yet common, to think that everyone has a better life than you do. Like Mitty, I used to spend most of my days looking at other people’s lives. And the most disturbing thing is that they probably did the same. I would be laying down in my bed, looking at all these trips and weddings and adventures that the people I know were having, and suddenly realize (actually, thought) that I was wasting my life. 

Thankfully, in the past couple of years things have changed. We have all come to understand that social media is not really true at all, but despite knowing this, we still take a look at our friends´ lives and even sometimes upload our own accomplishments online. Is The Mitty Effect something we enjoy? Which brings me to another question: Is it part of our human nature to share? And, how much is over-sharing? These are the type of questions that we have all answered with something along the lines of: I realize I do not have to share everything, but I like to show my friends what I do… is that so wrong? 

The ending of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (spoiler coming), is Walter finding what he was looking for, which happened to be purpose. A key moment in one of his final adventures is getting to know a photographer who was about to take a picture of a wild animal in a mountain, and at the end decides to enjoy the moment and not take it at all, even when everything was already set. He tells Mitty that he rather live in the moment. This stuck to me because I realized that it is fairly new to have the feeling of needing to share or immortalize everything we do. The philosophical question about trees falling down quietly in the forest can apply to this situation too… if you do not take a picture of it, did it happen?

The Mitty Effect does not apply if there is no inspiration. There have to be pictures, videos or constant reminders that “life is fun!” to actually start day dreaming about what a perfect social media life could actually look like on us. Could a lifestyle like that fit us? Is it even possible? Maybe comparing one-selves is not that bad, maybe it fuels imagination if done correctly. Walter Mitty discovers that the answer was always inside of him, which makes me hopeful to keep on dreaming, even if I am awake. 

Trailer to “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”
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1 Comment

  • Sofia
    Posted December 18, 2019 at 2:29 pm 0Likes

    I have never seen the movie, but after reading this article it is at the very top of my list of movies to watch, so thank you for introducing it to me. Daydreaming is common, but social media sure do not make our lives easier, making us imagine others as “having it all”, wondering what it would be like to be in their place. And this has gotten to a point where we sometimes get so absorbed in these envy-induced fantasies that we start making expectations for our lives based on them. And then when things inevitably turn out differently, many do not realize that perhaps their own life deserves more attention than some fantasy or pipe-dream seen on social media. It kind of makes me think of the movie Inception, where some people would rather live in a simulation than real life. It is quite sad. Nevertheless, I think that slowly (very slowly) but surely our society will snap out of it and we will realize that real life is worth so much more, and we will stop basing our expectations on something as fictitious as some nice photos on the profile of a person we have not spoken with in years.

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