I wrote the following piece in 2016. This was much before I started my blog. It was interesting to read it now, because thoughts and perspectives are like magicians – they can change their shapes and forms, sometimes fitting neatly into a mould, and sometimes defying gravity and reason, and choosing to hang like bats, inverted on a branch, viewing the world from upside down, finding similar things different and different things similar.
I would love to know what you think. How much do you think one should share on social media, especially when it comes to posting your travel or vacation pics? Is there something to be said about restraint, or it doesn’t really matter whether you post one pic or two or twenty or a hundred. Should we be mindful about how we portray our lives on social media? Mindful that it might have an impact on so many in our social circle – some of whom who might be going through a difficult time and our glossed, beautiful life might appear like a mirage, like a cruel joke to them?
Here’s the piece from 2016.
On my Facebook, you will find some mention of my trip to Belgium. About four or five pictures in total. There is one of a cat that we found sitting by the window in Bruges, one of us climbing the Bell Tower, two of the quaint 19th century house we stayed at in Ghent.
We have hundreds of photographs from the trip. Of windmills, waterways, ice creams, boat trips, horses, our host, the streets. We did what most holiday goers do these days. We didn’t let a moment go away without it being captured on the camera.
I wanted to post more pictures on Facebook, but something held me back. And that is ─ remembering a time in my life when everything seemed so dark that I felt I had nothing happy to post or to show on Facebook. But the world did. So I would open my account and the timeline would be flooded with photographs of a couple in their ‘he proposed-I accepted’ pose, someone’s honeymoon snaps that captured every nuance of the sea in Bali, as well as every corner of their luxurious suite. Someone was climbing the Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and you could see their tired, happy poses, and someone else was sea diving in Mauritius. People in pretty dresses, blow-dried hair and generally, happy things and happy people in happy places.
It had seemed to me at that time that while I tried to grieve and submit death certificates at umpteen places, and explain what aortic aneurysm was, the world was elsewhere ─ and that elsewhere was a place I had no knowledge of, and no hope of getting access to. I knew that the friends and acquaintances on my timeline were simply living their lives, that they had no reason to be mean to me or to people like me, but even with that understanding, I simply felt left out.
I don’t think I have ever forgotten that feeling. However, when happy tidings came to me, I did something that I thought was beyond me. I filled my Facebook with photo albums depicting every stage of my wedding. A year later all those photographs and the captions that went with them made me cringe. I felt it was a bit too much, and that I must have appeared idiotic and narcissistic to my friends.
And perhaps that is why, I held back when I took that vacation to Belgium. I was giddy with excitement – this was our first trip outside of the UK. We may have not made this trip were we to be based in India. It was my husband’s job in the UK that made this possible: from the fact that it was easier to spend in Euros when you earned in pounds to the fact that Belgium was so much closer to us here than it would be to us in India. For days before the trip, I dreamed about it. We bought a new camera, a flowery Cath Kidston backpack for me, a guide book from the library, a notebook in which I listed down names of restaurants to go to (gleaned from blogs and travel pieces). I think, the last time I was this excited was when I got married.
That time, some three and a half years ago, I had left a trail of hundreds of photographs on Facebook. This time, I felt a bit superior. I wasn’t one of those people, I said to myself. I am more evolved now.
And then, I came along this piece titled Faking Happiness on Social Media helped me cope with Depression written by Holly Elmore on Quartz.
And Holly makes some beautiful points there. To quote from her piece, “When our friends appear to spend their entire lives collecting awards for their critically-adored novels and swimming with dolphins, it’s easy to feel envious and dissatisfied with our own imperfect existences.
But all people struggle in some private corner of their lives. Given that reality, I think we should have empathy for friends who attempt to give themselves a boost with help from likes and sepia filters—not a mean-spirited urge to unmask them. In fact, it can even be worthwhile try a little image-crafting on for size. Sometimes what we post on social media is less about bragging and more about learning to see ourselves in a more positive light.”
She talks about how when her therapist asked her to list three times in her entire life that she felt happy, and she struggled to conjure up a single memory, it was her photographs that helped her remember that even through her depression, she had done happy things, been to places, created worthwhile memories:
“During my worst periods with depression, it was a struggle for me to conjure even a single happy memory. It wasn’t that my good memories were gone – only that it was hard to retrieve them when I was in such a different state of mind. Once, when a therapist asked me to list three times in my entire life that I felt happy, I was forced to go down the calendar of holidays in my head and try to remember what I did for each of them.”
Something in that piece spoke to me. It was as if, a new window had opened up. I went back to Facebook. I put up two or three photographs from the holidays my husband and I had taken in the past few months; holidays that I had been completely silent about on social media hitherto.
Why did I do so? I think, that even though I had tried to be non-judgemental about people who posted a lot of photographs on social media, I was judging them. And since I had done that sort of a thing too, I was judging myself as well. I was also, at least in my mind’s bubble, claiming a superior place by not posting too many pictures anymore.
Elmore’s piece brought me to a place of understanding, of compassion – for other people, as well for myself. If ‘crafting’ a happy image on social media, was helping us, even if a fraction of us, I could do without judging.
When my father died suddenly, my 74-year old blind mother and me, were flung into a spiral of despair. Nothing seemed to bring us joy. A year or two later, when I fell in love and got married, it was like spring had returned to our household. Everything felt better that summer – even the mangoes seemed to be juicer. My wedding was perhaps, one of the happiest periods in my mother’s life – she says I couldn’t have brought her more happiness, not even if I had won the Pulitzer.
It could be something else for someone. Maybe that vacation in Bali that led to 170 photographs on social media, came after a lot of saving and scrimping and was the couple’s it moment. Or maybe not. But my judging is ebbing away. If I want to be at a place where I don’t envy people for what they do in their lives – be their social media lives or otherwise, I also want to let go of any superior notion that I may have of myself. The notion that is gained by posting a couple of pics less. I am not downplaying restraint, but it is no good if it comes with judging others too harshly.
(Postscript – in terms of blogging, that is when one blogs about travelling – to a new city or country – do you think it might also be about privilege? That is some of us having the privilege to be able to travel versus some of us who can’t. Is there a way to write or blog about travel that would give a person who isn’t able to travel for some reason, joy in our travel, in our journey, rather than a feeling of being left out? Adding this thought here because I also post the link of my travel blogs to my Facebook page. Do you think it is a good practice?)