“In a world that entices us to browse the lives of others to help us better determine how we feel about ourselves, and to, in turn, feel the need to be constantly visible — for visibility, these days, seems to somehow equate to success — do not be afraid to disappear.”
When Michaela Coel said these words at Emmy 2021, it was almost as if all of the Internet (and those very-very-online, so basically, all of us) let out a sigh of recognition. Because chances are even if you’re not aspiring to be a world-changing screenwriter, you have felt the pressure to be “visible.” And to be visible in a way that is perceived to be successful. (Whether we are successful or not, is another matter.)
Think of the last time you tapped through Instagram stories. What did you see? Someone posted stories of their travels, a funny video, a restaurant meal, some not-so-humblebrag about how beautiful their life is. If you were to actually pause in your mindless tapping to ask yourself what the larger narrative behind those lit-up circles is, you will find that it all comes down to just one thing: success. Being on social media — whichever is your chosen platform (or poison) — means you are inherently performing your life as a successful one. It doesn’t matter if you are actually successful, or if that is even something you’re aspiring for. On “the socials,” you’ve gotta fake it, till you make it.
It is this “performance” that most studies about social media warn us about. Because even if we know that what we post on social media is only a fraction of how life really is like — others don’t. And even worse, we forget to put that filter on while gazing longingly at the latest beach vacation pics of that one person in your sixth grade class.
If we were to measure our lives against the imagined successes of everyone we think we know on social media, we’d be too scared to live. Because everything we desire will seem not enough. It’s the curse of having the world at your fingertips. You have to reckon with it, even if you don’t want to.
So what does going away from the world look like? What does sitting with yourself — sans the expectations of the world from you — feel like? I have been trying to do that, slowly. Taking no-Internet days, switching off my phone at night, disabling notifications. And here’s what I found.
I think it’s an uncomfortable venture. To sit with yourself, to feel that it’s okay to not know what everyone (and that one person in your 11th tuition class) is doing, to admit to the uncertainty of our futures. Thanks to social media scrambling our brains, we’ve forgotten what it’s like to just be. And of course, the discomfort compels us to open some app and lose ourselves in it. But more and more, I am starting to think that a personal reckoning with discomfort is an essential one.
Who are we in an Internet-less land? What ideas do we have? What joys do we discover? It’s what Coel dares us to do in her speech -- which we shared, retweeted, commented on, and hit play on. She wants us to go away
“...Do not be afraid to disappear. From it, from us, for a while. And see what comes to you in the silence.”
So, that is what I hope to do this week. Hit “Pause.” See what comes to me. And then, maybe, I will write to you about it.
What do you think of Coel’s speech? Did it make you uninstall Instagram? Reply to me, I would love to know.