A woman I know with two small children is going through a difficult time in her life right now; she’s getting a divorce. Her husband left her abruptly, leaving her few options but to return to her hometown to live with her parents until she gets “settled.” Returning home feels to her like admitting defeat, like she’s unable to make it on her own. It’s hard for her to think about starting over in life, in relationships, in work; the whole thing is pretty overwhelming.
I started noticing that whenever I’m on Facebook, so is she. I wondered, What are the odds of that? I’m on at pretty random times, but when I am, she’s usually on too. You can kind of track her day by when she posts. She’s always writing messages and tagging photos. She’s put up hundreds of pictures of her kids (they are truly cute) but much fewer of herself. Over the past year she’s put on probably thirty pounds, but you’d ever know that by her Facebook photos. Her carefully chosen visual representations of herself online are of a much younger, much thinner person.
Looking at her pictures and postings, you’d think nothing was amiss in her life. She writes with superlatives and enthuses about how much fun she’s having. Everything is wonderful; everything is good. If I didn’t know the reality of her situation, I’d have no way to detect the disconnectivity between what’s going on in her real life and what she portrays in her virtual life. For portrayal is the right word: she is acting as if everything is fine. Online, her virtual world is positive; off-line, it’s awash in stress and decisions, difficulties and disappointments. It’s no wonder she spends so much time online.
This hiding in plain sight isn’t something new; I’ve seen people do it by saying they’re “fine” when they’re not. I’ve seen people carefully create an image through the artful use of hair color, cosmetics, and fashion. I’ve seen people do it through sports cars, boats, and jet skis. These are props in a staged show allowing the players to maintain the illusion that the face represents real life. Similarly, the Internet can become another staged production where what is presented is engaging and compelling but ultimately is not the total picture.
All of which brings me back to the concept of virtual life as opposed to real life. According to author Erik Davis, the term virtual reality was first used by French playwright and director Antonin Artaud in 1938. In his book The Theatre and Its Double, Artaud used the term la realite virtuelle to describe the effect theatre has on the mind’s imagination, “in which characters, objects and images take on the phantasmagoric force of alchemy’s visionary internal dramas.” It is a world in which what you imagine comes to life. Or, as Shakespeare said in As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”
The above is excerpted from 5 chapter in #Hooked: The Pitfalls of Media, Technology and Social Networking by Dr. Gregory Jantz.