Social Media Tourists

Nowadays most everything we do, we share through a social media channel at one point or another, turning our personal lives into online content (to Mark Zuckerberg’s delight). But feeding the content of our daily lives into social media feeds has adverse side effects.

I can’t help but feel that the Web and social media have made people into tourists of the worst kind: the ones who go places just to say they’ve been, just to take the same smiling photo in front of monuments x, y and z, just to buy the t-shirt at the gift shop that says they’ve been.

People use Foursquare and Facebook to check-in to places to let it be known that they are at a fancy a restaurant, in a foreign country, or at a new art gallery. People post twitpics from MoMa of a Magritte they just love or share a picture on Instagram of the mountain they are hiking. People post and tag photos from that crazy party last night or share a favorite quote from the Bukowski novel they are currently reading. But with all of this time people spend posting and broadcasting bits of proof of the interesting lives they are leading, is anyone taking the time to actually experience and enjoy all of these interesting activities? Or is everyone just a tourist in their own lives?

This is only going to get worse if Facebook Timeline takes off. Zuckerberg and crew plan to surface our lives. But in truth, it won’t be our lives at all. It will be an idealized version of them that we choose to present to the world.

It seems we’ve almost gotten ourselves to the point of the chicken-and-egg scenario of asking ourselves which came first, the decision to do something or the desire to post something online about doing that something: “Am I going to this café because I actually want a coffee from there, or because I want to make it known to everyone that I am there, that I am the type of person who would go there?” One of the most popular check-in locations on Foursquare is at the airport. Now, I’m sure that’s because people have extra time on their hands there. But the airport check-in also gives off the whiff of importance, of adventure — even if the reality of air travel is far less interesting.

Because social media sites (especially Facebook) aim to insert themselves into all areas of life by making things in real life into social objects that are visual, shareable, post-able, the lines between social media and real life become blurry. Managing your social media can become just as consuming (if not more, for some) as managing your real life, which is part of the larger issue of social media sites enabling or even pressuring people into crafting parallel, infinitely cooler, prettier and more popular online selves.

It’s really sad to see someone at a concert asking their friend to take a picture of them on their iPhone so that they can post it on Facebook later, or standing with their phones out in front of their face capturing video footage the whole time rather actually just watching and enjoying the music of the band they paid to go see.

It is at this point such a rarity to find yourself in a situation in which no one around you is checking-in or photo-sharing or tweeting about something. Everyone has one foot on the ground at all times, and the other firmly planted on greener social media ground. Hopefully this stance doesn’t shift too far online that we forget about the real ground we are all actually standing on.

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