Unless you were a scullery drudge at Versailles, you are probably faced with more luxuries that you don’t have than you would at any other time in history. The internet has connected us to just about everything, and that includes easy access to a world of Pinterest-worthy kitchens, fancy cars, youtube channels devoted to people showing off their shopping ‘hauls’, heart-stopping travel destinations, and more. People spend up to 5 hours a day online, either on social media or browsing websites, and during that time you’re faced with countless images of perfect, happy lives full of shiny things going on around you. And it can be hard to stop yourself from spending all your money (and money you don’t have) trying to make your own life match those images.
Here’s the thing. Most of it is a lie. I think everyone knows that fact, or at least they say they do, but it can be hard to internalize it. When I scroll down my facebook feed, I see people posting memes like this:
And yet as you continue to see what else they post, the ‘Instagram’ version is all you find. If you look around your own life and only see the ‘reality’ versions, it can be hard not to truly believe that you’re not missing out.
One of the most insightful things I’ve ever read on the subject came from a sci-fi short story called “Simulacrum” by Ken Lieu.
But the real attraction of such technology has never been about capturing reality. Photography, videography, holography… the progression of such “reality-capturing” technology has been a proliferation of ways to lie about reality, to shape and distort it, to manipulate and fantasize.
People shape and stage the experiences of their lives for the camera, go on vacations with one eye glued to the video camera. The desire to freeze reality is about avoiding reality.
Pictures lie. At best, they tell a very incomplete story. You see the picture of the new furniture and the beaming people who spent so long designing the perfect comfortable living space, but don’t see the stress that’s going to come with each credit card bill for the next year. You see a ‘candid’ shot of a happy couple on vacation in front of a jaw-dropping natural wonder, but you don’t see the masses of tourists just out of view throwing cigarette butts on the ground*, and you don’t hear the arguments that couple had over something inconsequential that they’re still upset about, and you don’t see the 18 shots that they took with multiple poses and angles to find one that really portrayed the scene they wanted to convey.
With very rare exceptions, pictures never tell the truth. They simply tell the lie we want to make public, and even the lie that we want to believe. No amount of money you spend will actually make that lie true. You might get the temporary rush, but it won’t last, because everything you buy eventually gets old. That money, though, and the future security that comes with it, is gone forever.
*True story- I wanted to push people off a cliff when I saw them doing that here: