Be honest … where is your phone right now? In your hand, on your lap, on the couch next to you? If you made a truthful list of the things you couldn’t live without, would your phone crack the top five? Does your technology-loving heart skip a beat if your battery power gets below 20 percent? Let’s face it: Our phones aren’t going anywhere. So how do we choose to use them?
We have all heard the old adage telling us to “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” And if this is true, and we prepare to face whatever battle the day might wage, with what are we choosing to arm ourselves? Is our metaphorical armor of choice really just a mask to shield the world from our authentic selves? As wonderful, convenient and incredibly useful as our smart devices are, they present us with a dilemma: Who are we online?
When we move to a new city we can choose to reinvent ourselves. That same option exists when we create a social media profile. I imagine a server at a Seinfeld-esque diner asking us as we sign in to our various accounts, “Who’s it gonna be today?” Is raw authenticity enough for us to keep up with the Joneses, or is there a tremendous pressure to up the ante in order to live up to the carefully crafted personas of our 500 closest online acquaintances?
These convenient little handheld distractions have the dangerous power of robbing us of connecting with people on a human level and from genuinely accepting and presenting our convoluted selves as they exist at our core.
So who am I? Well, according to Facebook I am a floating head that is married and currently self-employed, a former professional actor who now lives in Amarillo and volunteers at Amarillo Little Theatre. But, I didn’t have to risk vulnerability to answer the who/what/where of my life and complete a Facebook profile. A list of surface-level facts about me doesn’t necessarily reveal anything to you about who I really am. Is that part of the allure?
Maybe it’s easier to compartmentalize our lives, so we can have our authentic selves on the one hand and our online personas on the other. That option will always exist, but if we choose it do we not also choose to barricade the world from our unique (albeit flawed) experience and perspective? Shielding our bona fide selves in order to appear more acceptable and relatable online actually accomplishes the opposite. The good news? Honesty comes with a side of freedom.
Social media can be a delightful tool. At our very fingertips we can keep up with old friends and their children’s antics, plan and organize events, and stay up-to-date on what everyone had for dinner last night. Of course, people tend to post their most flattering (read: filtered) photos of themselves and their families doing the most exciting things and having the greatest time while doing them (“#blessed”), and we give ‘em a like and scroll on. Because we like everything buttoned up and #blessed and tied in a pretty, color-enhanced bow.
Or do we? I have noticed that when a dissenter goes rogue and shares something genuine, not flashy or filtered or touched, the response is overwhelmingly supportive. Why is that? In my opinion, it is because true heart-to-heart, human-to-human communication has taken a hit since, in a grand stroke of irony, our world became smart. We have replaced proper human connection with texting and trite social media posts that we think will please the masses. And I am not writing about anything of which I am not guilty, believe me. I do this, too.
Of course, it isn’t malicious to filter a photo or celebrate a fabulous vacation. But when life gets messy, as it inevitably does, and we have created these carefully etched-out versions of our online selves, do we choose to post relatable truths, or do we set that vulnerable mess aside in favor of an artistic picture of a cloudy day and a moody quote from Google? Keeping this in mind, the question “Who are you?” suddenly increases in value. And why is that seemingly simple question so valuable? Because actively pursuing the answer to it roots us firmly in reality, fixes our eyes on what truly matters, and prevents unhealthy detours into who we believe we should be.
Let’s leave social media out of the equation for a moment and shift our focus inward. When we are zeroed in on our own realities rather than trapping ourselves in a virtual one, we are far less likely to get distracted by our warped interpretations of someone else’s truths and by extension, less likely to compare. After all, “Comparison is the thief of joy” as Theodore Roosevelt so wisely expressed. Ah, Teddy … he gets us.
To live in actual reality is to have our eyes opened to the vast expanse of beauty this short life has to offer and if we learn to be OK with our present reality, aren’t we less likely to create a new one? The world is chaos and so are we. We can admit it! Can we share a laugh, endure a bad day, enjoy a meal, a party, a fleeting thought without feeling the need to package it in perfectly airbrushed cellophane? Yes, we can.
There is joy in simplicity, and where there is joy, gratitude is rarely far behind. And gratitude – perhaps the most underrated of emotions – wipes the Vaseline off the lens of our warped reality and sheds dazzling light on our path. There is a charisma associated with the well-rooted and grateful, and a refreshing magnetism with the boldly authentic. Someone who openly accepts their own fallibility with humor and grace, but stands firmly on the ground knowing their own worth, is someone with whom I want to have a cup of coffee.
Could we all volunteer to peer through the brilliant lens of gratitude and set aside our need to gaze down the rabbit hole of comparison? Everything is brighter, more vivid, more colorful on this side of the screen. What I have learned to be true on stage is also true in life: Don’t get caught “acting”. Your truth, just as it is, is unique to you and, unedited, worth more to the world than you think.
So who am I in the bright, vivid, colorful lens of authenticity? I am a married, 32-year-old soon-to-be mother and a fiercely loyal friend. My husband, Brett, makes me a better human being. I love my Great Dane, Jake, with a passion – even when he eats my birthday cake and stains my furniture. I am neurotic, a professional worrier, and err on the side of introvert, although I work aggressively to be gregarious and social. I learned to feign confidence through years of professional theater auditions in New York, Chicago, and L.A., so I appear confident most of the time, even though that is actually not at all the case. I struggle to feel like I am enough. And you? Who’s it gonna be today?
by Annika Spalding
Annika is an Amarillo native who returned to the area four years ago after performing professionally with, most recently, the third National Tour of Phantom of the Opera. She and her husband, Brett, are expecting their first child in March.