What is Reality, Anyway? Curated Life in the Age of Social Media

Social media has changed how we interact with the world around us. When I was a kid, I ran and played in the woods with my friends. I didn’t wonder about or care what was happening online; there barely was an “online,” and I certainly couldn’t access it.

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Jack will never know the world I knew. Between his age and his mama’s profession, neither of which he has any choice about, he’s plastered all over the Internet, along with stories about him and my fertility process trying to have him. That content will be out there forever. I try to assuage my mom guilt about that by reminding myself that he won’t even recognize the lack of privacy.

Why not?

No one his age will have any understanding of privacy the way I did. What scares me most about that is not the loss of privacy itself, but the ways in which Jack, and everyone else his age, will grow up viewing lives that are massively over-curated. We only show what we want to show.

Social Media Does a Lot of Good

In so many ways, there are positive aspects to our increased use of social media (and, in turn, lack of privacy). I can keep up with people I haven’t seen in years, but whose lives I truly care about and find to be interesting. For the Wave of Light Event, we featured 2 speakers who I had not seen in 15 years.

15 years!

A web of social media icons, showing how we're all interconnected

But because of our shared journeys of loss, we’ve stayed connected with one another, acted as support people, and all gathered together for this important event. Thanks to Facebook, it was as if no time had passed in those 15 years. We still know each other, and each other’s families. Social media can give us the illusion of connection where there isn’t one, but it can also keep us truly connected. 

As Steve Rosenbaum once aptly said in Forbes, “We [a]re all connected, and those connections are engaging and important. We have in the palm of our hands the power to be in constant contact with our friends, our loved ones, our pursuits and our passions.”

And Yet . . .

With this connectivity comes an obvious problem: the lives we share are, in many ways, not our lives at all. They’re curated content.

We’ve all become individual advertisers of our own lives, whether we mean to be or not. In most (not all) cases, we show only the best of things.

A community of people in a support group
A network of support, whether online or in person, can be lifesaving during times of grief.

There are numerous ways in which online communities, especially support communities, allow us to also show our worst. I could log onto my recurrent miscarriage Facebook group and ask the most personal questions about my body–cramps, uterine pain, bleeding after a certain procedure–and no one thought twice about it. But these questions were relegated to a specific community. I didn’t publish them to my own public page.

(Okay, actually, once, I did. Accidentally. I was mortified, and my mortification indicates how important it was for me to maintain my carefully curated life.)

One major exception to only showing the good is personal tragedy, such as the loss of a loved one. But in posting about these bad times, we still curate the user experience. We say about our loved ones what we want people to remember, post the pictures we want them to keep as images in their minds. This is a form of nostalgia, in which we idealize our past and people in it, particularly after they’re gone. But it’s also a form of protection: we must protect the lives we display, whether our own, our loved one’s, of some intrinsically linked version of the two.

What Happens In Between Perfection Tragedy?

So we show the curated good. And the very carefully curated bad. What we don’t show is the in between, despite the fact that the in between is everyday. It’s real life.

What we’re missing on social media is what Seinfeld brought to television: a show about nothing that was overtly aware of the fact that it was about nothing. What we’re missing is the mundane, the day-to-day, what happens in between the moments we deem worth capturing.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Everyday Things” font_container=”tag:h2|text_align:center|color:%23cd5173″][vc_masonry_media_grid grid_id=”vc_gid:1541450911140-81ea7b1a3b848ff8a09d8551c5b17873-0″ include=”1987,1988,1986,1985,1989,1990″][vc_column_text]

Image editing on Instagram

We’re also missing the time lost living in the everyday moments of our real lives. We don’t see the 30 photos it took so we could finally get a good one. Or the fact that we worked our way through every Live photo moment of those 30 photos to catch the best shot. There’s no image to show the time spent editing and choosing and combining photo filters.

All users (meaning, everyone seeing the content except the person creating it) see is the final post. The precious moments of life wasted spent getting to that content becomes invisible, even to our own selves. We don’t realize what we’re missing.

But let’s be honest; we’re not going to stop. So let’s at least talk about it.

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Self-curation is a funny thing. It’s something we do ALL the time. When we choose how to answer the question “how are you?” or decide what clothes to wear. When we decide what information to divulge in conversation, what to hold back, and how to phrase what we do say. It’s part of what creates what Christina Stiehl calls “hanxiety.”

“The feeling of dread that follows a night of heavy imbibing. Your mind races as you frantically scroll through your text messages and Instagrams, replaying what you can remember from the night before. Did I say anything embarrassing? Did I offend anyone? Do my friends hate me now?”

What this anxiety is really about is our temporary loss of curation. What did we do, say, put out in public that we didn’t carefully curate first?

Social Media and Self Curation

Our interconnectedness has taken this self-curation, and our anxiety about it, to a whole new level. Just look at some of the specific fears Stiehl cites. Who did I text or call? What did I post on social media? When we all lived with landlines and nothing more, the level of anxiety about self-curation was necessarily lower.

Instagram has to be one of the most blamable platforms. I can’t help but notice that, even when I write a thoughtful comment to go along with my photos, the comments I receive in return show that most users only look at the picture. Instagram is about the image, after all, and it has taken self-curation to a whole new level.

Photo Editing

Thanks to Instagram, we almost never post photos anymore that aren’t filtered, edited, or both. Sometimes, the edits are for pretty basic purposes. When the lighting is terrible, I can take an otherwise barely usable photo and turn it into something you can actually see. But don’t be fooled for a second into believing that, when I first posted this photo, I edited it only so you could see.

No. I edited it so you could see the gorgeous blue water and the contours of the mountains behind us. Oh, and because I liked the way the edited version made me look. Let’s not pretend we aren’t all narcissistic enough to care more about how we look in pictures than everyone else in them.

Family poses for photo with baby in stroller on Lake Como
Husband, Jack, and me standing in front of the beautiful water of Lake Como in the small town of Cernobbio.

Other times, our editorial choices come into play for different reasons. In the photo below, I wanted “Instagram worthy,” meaning I needed Jack, my precious boy who is perfectly adorable all on his own, to look like he’s in a Ralph Lauren Baby catalogue. Is that a thing, Ralph Lauren Baby?


Toddler sitting on woven chair
Jack playing on his favorite chair.
Cute baby with dirty hands and face clapping
Jack celebrating his intense enjoyment of blackberries over breakfast.

What these photos show, I hope, is that we take things that are already good, already precious, and search for ways to make them better–for the consumption of others. And we’re taking time out of our lives for this.

Sure, I didn’t dress Jack for breakfast photo ops or bring along a professional photographer (but don’t put it past me). But I did take ALL of these photos to choose which ones to put on Instagram.

Taking a lot of photos in hopes of getting 1 good one.

Plus two more rows that wouldn’t fit into my screen shot. In case you don’t follow me on Instagram (which you should), here’s the final curated product.

A Boy and His Breakfast Instagram Post

See what I did there? I talked about how Instagram is probably the worst platform in terms of self-curation (and I believe in terms of self-esteem–more on that another day). And yet, I took the opportunity to plug my IG page to increase following. This is the world we live in. Follow me, but know that what you see is curated. Because that’s our world.


And it’s not just about photo editing. As the last group of photos show, we put so much time and effort into even choosing which ones to share, maybe to show off our editing skills, or maybe to make our lives look better than they are. That’s not to say they aren’t good, but we curate them to look extra special.

One of the photos above, for instance, was from Lake Como. Consciously, I chose that photo because it shows what a difference editing can make, much more than most of my photos do. But subconsciously, maybe I just wanted you to see that we’d done this super cool thing, taking our 14-month-old to Italy. And this photo doesn’t show the sheer exhaustion of traveling across the ocean with a 14-month-old during a record-breaking heatwave. So, definite curation over reality win, I guess?

During this trip, we spent part of a a day in Orvieto, a lovely village that overlooks the idyllic rolling hills of Italian wine country. As we were leaving, we found a lovely little green space with a beautiful view, to which my photo does absolutely no justice. Of course, I wanted a family picture in front of that view. We took as many as Jack would allow–all live, so I could go through the different clips and find the best shot. None of them were good. Still, I got the best version I could, edited it to the best of my ability, and shared it. Because who doesn’t share a photo of their family in the rolling hills of central Italy?

This photo proves I’m no pro at editing. I can’t even get it to sharpen correctly. But this type of photo curation isn’t about showing off editing skills; it’s about showing how great your life is, regardless of photo quality.

What I didn’t share was what most of our time in this stunning space was really like. There were abundant wild cats, which Jack thought were the best things his little eyes had ever seen.

Forget the world famous duomo that was just steps behind this lovely grassy area. Who needs the stunning view to the front? And certainly the cave and tunnel systems directly beneath us aren’t anything special. Those droves of people lining up for tours couldn’t possibly be there because the tunnels are amazing, right?

Nah. Jack just wants the cats.

And apparently, his mama isn’t too concerned about all the other beauty either. You see, as much as we want to glamorize our lives and make them look amazing (which, I’m not going to lie, mine is pretty great), we have to be realistic here. A baby in another country is HARD WORK. Time adjustments, constantly changing sleeping arrangements, missing naps for sightseeing, getting so hot it physically makes him sick.

So sure, we got our family picture in front of the rolling hills, although the quality is so bad you can’t really even see the hills. But I didn’t sit and enjoy the view anymore than Jack did. Aside from seeing it, standing in awe for a second, and getting my family picture, I spent our whole 15 minutes in this lovely spot in essentially this exact position.

Exhausted mom lying on the grass while dad chases baby

Thank God for Husband, who chased Jack around, and never actually let him get to the cats.

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