Instagram is (im)famous for allowing us to apply filters to our pictures. If we do not like the lighting in our selfie, we can quickly apply a predefined filter to adjust it or turn it into a gray-scale image. If we are feeling adventurous, there are basic photo-editing tools we can use to manually adjust the image coloring. Some people, such as myself, may use the filters or controls to make something stand out more. Regardless of their use, Instagram’s filters have come to represent something much greater in our society: a filter on our lives.

Social media of all types and age, even as far back as Myspace, has exponentially increased a physiological condition called FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. While this existed before social media, the invention of the Internet and creation of online interaction have aggravated it to levels beyond initial expectation. We have become so consumed with knowing what is going on with other people that we make ourselves sick scrolling through it all. It is no wonder why people constantly experience “Facebook burnout.”

Meanwhile, jealously, envy, and depression is at an all-time high. We scroll through our Twitter timeline, looking at all the fun things people are doing and the giant smile on their faces in weekly selfies. In a single moment, in a single thought, we experience three emotions: “That’s cool. I wish I could do that.”

In order to soothe our instant jealously, make up for our feelings of sudden inadequacy, and rise from the slump of swift depression, we may plan an event with our friends with the (secondary!) intention of taking a group picture and posting it online for others to see. Maybe we take a selfie and show ourselves off. Possibly, we look around the room or out a window and take a picture of something that catches our eye. Once we have done this, we feel better. After all, if they are having fun and living life to the fullest, there is no reason we cannot do the same!

Just like that, we have put a filter on our life.

I do not make any of this up. These are all things I personally have done, thought, or felt, and I have experienced just a small fraction of FOMO compared to other people. The fact of the matter is we have become a very fake population. We constantly put up a façade so others do not see our pain. We pretend to be happy to hide our depression from others. Our envy of others consume us to the point we engage in a war of “one-upmenship” to please our ego.

Masking our hurt is nothing new. Humans have done it since the beginning of time. Even I have played the game of bottling it up, as I one penned in my personal, reflective writings:

Have you ever considered that one person,
You know, the one who smiles all the time?
The one who remains positive in all things?
The one who is cheery and glad every time you see them?
Have you ever pondered the idea
That the most upbeat person around
May be the one facing struggles abound?Have you ever, then, entertained the idea
That the person’s spirited character and laughter
Serves a two-fold purpose?
One to make others forget their woes,
Two so they may forget their own sorrows?

Clearly, hiding our real selves is nothing new, but now that we live in the Instagram-era, our increased lack of self-confidence is more easily covered up by (you guessed it) applying a filter.

This sad reality stuck me anew while listening to No Filter by Britt Nicole. In her thought-provoking song (embedded below), she sings about a point in time she someone faked life and ponders what purpose, if any, it may have served.

“There it is, I think we got the perfect shot
You’d never know at dinner we didn’t even talk
And we look so amazing, who wouldn’t wanna be us?
But the smile that we’re faking fades when the camera’s off” 
— Britt Nicole, No Filter

My goodness, if current musicians are writing songs about this meaningless fakery we engage in every day, it might be a good time to pay attention to what is going on!

Sadly, our fake lives have slowly but surely become our real lives. In other words, fake is the new real. We are expected to post the fakest, most self-gratifying, meaningless content and pictures on social media. If we do not, we experience even greater depression and feelings of little self-worth and/or are judged and deemed a nobody because we are not part of the same “social status.” It is as if we are forced to live a lie and be like a clown: someone who traditionally wears lots of makeup and outrageous clothing and pretends to be someone they are not.

For every benefit the Internet and the Web has brought us, it has subsequently created or magnified a problem. In the case of filtering our lives, one of the root problems is the loss of true interest and genuine care in others. Although I am very knowledgeable in computer technology and some of its many facets, I am fortunate to not have had any form of social media until I was 18, as well as not have a smartphone until I could pay for it (which turned out to be age 21). Through these “delays” (as some may call them), I ended up avoiding the trap of filtered life and learned to engage with others. Though I have a much greater social media presence today, I find it inferior to simply sitting beside or across someone and having a meaningful conversation. I am delighted when I get to engage in discussion in a group. In fact, to sit down with anyone and honestly talk fills me with joy. In the last two semesters, I have had many conversations with many people (guys and girls), with topics ranging from exes, bf/gf/crushes, diets, prom, home life, drinking, religion, education, and much more. These times of conversation have meant more to me than the people I have talked to will ever know.

You see, when you step outside your bubble, take off the filter, and be real with people, there is a feeling you do not get anywhere else. A feeling of belonging, a release of stress, emotions, and anxiety, and a deeper understanding of the person and why they are who they are. You build a degree of trust, perhaps a sense of security, and a more solid relationship (in my book, a friendship is a form of a relationship). You walk away revived, refreshed, and restored, knowing your time has not been spent in vain. When you take the time to interact with others and converse beyond shallow conversation, people are more likely to come to you with their problems, to ask advice, or just engage in conversation. In short, you become more likable, enjoyable to be around, and maybe even *gasp* a “popular” person. People’s relationship with you becomes of more worth and value than the fakest real person on social media. What we often fail to realize is that when we are real, others around us become real. By ditching the filters and showing who we really are, we demonstrate to others what it means to live a real, purpose-filled life while simultaneously and subconsciously encouraging them to “get real.”

Being real and no longer covering up your flaws is not easy. Being vulnerable with others presents many other obstacles, such as deciding if a person you might open up to is trustworthy and will not spread your troubles around as gossip. Yet in the end, if we can begin to “picture us with no filter on” (as Britt Nicole says), we can begin to live satisfied, beneficial, meaningful, truthful lives in this age of Facebook.

But to do this, we have to stop putting a filter on.

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