Curating our lives for mass consumption
From that subtitle, you would think that I don’t like Instagram. Could not be further from the truth. I literally just started Insta and I am hooked. I have posted like 36 images and I still want to do more. I do have one problem though, other than a new digital time-sinkhole I have found myself in… Because of my OCD, I have to post in groups of three, or my profile becomes unsettling. That is my problem with Instagram, but looking at other people’s pages, I wonder if that is the problem for others?
I don’t think it is. In fact, I think I know the problem.
Social media is the neurotypical’s mask, isn’t it?
You might have heard about autistic masking from me or know it from your own experience, but it’s basically the act that autistic people have to put on to be like other neurotypicals. It’s an exhausting practice that often leads to burnout and serious mental health crises. For me, it’s what lead to a late diagnosis and years of mental and physical anguish.
So the question for me is– if an autistic mask leads to anguish for autistic people, does a digital mask hurt neurotypical people?
I think most would say yes. Now the article I just linked to this post really focuses on teens, but I would say that these ideas can be extrapolated over all people, neurodiverse or otherwise typical.
Social media has a lot of upside. So I’m not here to bash the technology itself. (That’s a tired trope that annoys me every time.) Social media allows for people to make connections with like-minded others who might not be available in their area, like LGBT+ people, for example. As far as I know, the number of bisexual people that I see daily is pretty much zip. The amount of times I meaningfully speak to LGBT people in person, almost never. But online? Online I get to make connections with people just like me, LGBT and autistic, sometimes both! Just like me! It allows people to find a place and limit the loneliness that plagues us all in our quest for connection.
(I am working on the in-person aspect of this by trying to join local LGBT support groups and such. But then a global pandemic put us all in quarantine. So I have a feeling that social media is becoming more important then ever, am-I-right?)
Of course the downside of social media is the way we curate our online presence, or in some cases, don’t. For some, social media is a way to build their platform and national presence for whatever reason they need, whether it’s for their career or a charity, whatever. So in the interest of their agenda, they have to stay “on brand” all the time. Which in the end, is a kind of dishonest way to live, right? Sure you could be brutally honest all the time, but that can also have huge ramifications. Whether it’s good or bad, people have been fired, had their lives destroyed, all because of the things they posted or said online.
Now- that aspect is a slippery slope that I just stepped on. Because yes, with doxing, sometimes you just want to bring people’s hate into the light. You want the world to know that “Jack from HR” is actually a huge racist. You want his boss to see him shouting “Jews will not replace us!” down the streets of Charlottesville. BUT Jack might also be trying to out Stephanie from accounting. So, with all the doxing and cancel culture, your “real life” could be ruined. Just look at what someone tried to do to Nikkie de Jager. Now she overcame what that asshole tried to do to her, but it was her choice when she wanted to come out, and that person took it from her.
So what do you do? Create a life that is always appealing, enviable, and bulletproof? Stay off the internet entirely? Or do you allow that real human connection to take place in a digital format? Do you show the chinks in your armor?
As an autistic queer person who refuses to go back into that closet, I now try to live by a few social media survival rules:
Rule #1 Do not start flame wars.
This is really hard for me, because part of my disability makes it hard for me to “let people be wrong.” But not only do flame wars do little for changing the world, they often reflect poorly on you as a person. Not because of the opinions that you are so passionately defending or the information you are offering- but because flame wars only add to conflict. You can be constructive without being a dick. And if you can’t be constructive, let them be the dick, and leave them in their ignorance like the shit puddle they are. (See, this is why I have that rule. Because I call people shit puddles.)
Rule #2 “Do no harm” photo editing.
Photoshop is fun. Let’s not pretend that it isn’t. What it is not- is real. So do your photo editing with the idea of “do no harm.” Want to add a beautiful color filter that turns your eyes an unnatural shade of purple? Sure! That sounds like fun! Want to use a face-tuner so that your face is skinny, your eyes are unnaturally large, and your lips are three times their size? STOP THAT SHIT NOW. I’ll make a caveat on that one, if you want to do it for fun once, that’s probably fine, but often, people are routinely carving their digital faces into inhuman masks, and that’s just not ok. I will admit that I have used photoshop to fix my hair in a picture, and that’s fine. But I’ve also tried to sculpt my overweight physique into something more appealing, and that is not. It’s not healthy, and it’s harmful for others to see you do it.
Rule #3 Respect other people’s self-determination, including your friends and family members.
This is a tough one. We want to celebrate our wonderful family and friends, we want to show them off to the world but at what point is that not our choice to make? I have this problem with my son a lot. You’ll notice that on both media platforms, here on my blog and on instagram, I do not show my son’s face and only refer to him by his pseudonym. That is because my son has the right to tell his own story. In the interest of helping other autistics I am honest about his diagnosis, because hiding diagnoses just leads to more stigma, and I am willing to lean in on his story for the greater good. But his face is his face, it is not my own. I also try to get approval before I show my husband John. (Occasionally I have to beg, because he hates all pictures of himself. But it is still his face, his image.)
Now a lot of parents say, “But they’re my kid, and I’m showing my life.” Yes, that’s true. And that’s why I will still show some of my moments with my son. Glimpses of what my life is like with the little prince. An artistic taste, if you will. But his story is still his own. His image is his own. (On top of this, there are certain safety concerns that confirm my beliefs on this fact, but that’s a whole other blog post for another day.)
It’s interesting because we are now in an age where the first mommy blogger’s kids are now old enough to start taking back their images. (This article from buzzfeed has a bit of click baiting title, but it gets my point across.) So we, as parents, have to decide what’s more important to us, showing our baby’s adorable face or protecting their privacy. It’s not as easy an answer as you might think. They are often really freaking beautiful. Who wouldn’t want to show off their kid? John said it best, “That is up for every family to decide. You can’t choose for them, and you can’t judge.”
(And if I’m honest, I still share my son’s image on my private accounts. I couldn’t handle not showing his beautiful face to family and friends. Fortunately for my other public social media outlets, my son is a bit of a “runner” so I have a lot of pictures of his back.)
Having said all that, the important thing to remember when you are doing any kind of short-form blogging, like facebook, or twitter, or Instagram, is that you are creating your own story. And though you may want to put it in the best light, do a little editing from time to time, don’t forget the honesty. These may end up being the testimonies of your life. Makes sure that they are not a lie. Unmask.