In Charles Dickens, Hard Times, Mr. M’Choakumchild, Thomas Gradgrind, and an unnamed government official were so firmly rooted in reality that they rebuked a class full of children for thinking horse covered wallpaper would be acceptable because horses wouldn’t populate people’s walls. The entire school system in Dickens’ world was built around the “truth” that everything had to be based on fact. The truth of the novel, however, illustrated that this approach lost much in translation. Facts are facts and not opinions. They are actual – non-debatable truths. The problem with the way this society dealt with facts was that they left no room for opinion and that lead to untold misery for the students of the schools and the community who was affected by the institution.
Unlike the characters in Dickens’ novel, we have an opposite crisis of epic proportion on our hands today. People have become so used to fact and opinion seeming interchangeable that some have begun to lose sight of what is real. Like a butterfly drawn to a flower covered plastic tablecloth, we have been duped into thinking that an artificial existence is better than real life. The truth is that most people don’t live life like Instagram influencers and Youtube celebrities. Most people are engaged in the daily grind of living to pay bills, raise families, and try to enjoy life with what they have.
It used to be easy to look at someone on TV or the movies and distinguish their lifestyle as being possible because of their celebrity status and enormous financial wealth generated by the entertainment business. These days, social media and internet famous personas are now frequently blurring those lines for everyday people. It’s harder to look at someone who isn’t making millions in the movies or music business and separate their lives from our own. We begin to long for picture-perfect moments all the time because we are bombarded with innumerable images showing us how we “should be” living.
Before the advent of social media, people would come together and talk about their trips, events, and successes using the descriptive power of their words. Their friends and family would then conjure an image in their mind based on what they heard. These together times of story swapping were usually much less frequent. They occurred, at most once daily, but usually far less often. People were able to go home to their own lives and enjoy the images and small triumphs they were party to themselves. These days, people follow multiple accounts, often a myriad of accounts, ranging from close friends and family to celebrities of all kinds. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, facebook for us older people, and many other lesser-known apps. We don’t just hear what people are up to anymore. Instead, we are inundated with perfectly cropped, photoshopped, photo ops that have no more place in the mundane lives of regular people than tea with the queen.
Seeing everybody in spectacularly edited for light and color, filtered images throughout the day is detrimental to our perception of reality and truth. We begin to look at ourselves in the beauty of the natural light and somehow think that it isn’t glamorous, shiny, or glitzy enough. In fact, because we see so many images throughout the day, we cling to the impression that everybody is doing, being, loving, laughing, or living better than we are. Nothing could be further from the truth. Reality TV isn’t reality. You can tell by the current spate of side-by-side pictures of real vs. Instagram photos that everyone is putting on a face. We are all Oz now, behind a curtain, hiding who we truly are to seem better, brighter, larger than life.
The problem with the idea that image is everything is that there is no nourishment in that. The butterfly cannot use it proboscis on a plastic tablecloth. There is no nectar in plastic flowers, no sustenance to preserve its life. Instead, it noses around looking for something real. We need to do the same. My life is chock-full of the wonders of the mundane. There is homework help, dinner making, making sure kids catch the bus in the morning, trips to the doctor, cleaning up, bedtime prayers, showers, hair care, skin care, walking the dog, tossing and turning, bill paying, chuckles, and arguments, board games, and washing the dishes. We don’t go on a magical vacation to a tropical paradise or international city every year or even every other year. I don’t always look my best, wear the most expensive or newest clothes or heels; I’m usually in sneakers. My hair isn’t perpetually perfect down to each strand, it’s thin and frizzy and most often tucked behind my ears so that it isn’t in my face while I’m doing the down and dirty parts of living.
The con isn’t thinking that other people have astonishingly better lives than we do, it’s thinking that 95% of their lives are made up of the snapshots we see on Instagram. Instead of being conned by the counterfeit we need to cherish the common.