My motivation for writing this post is twofold.
The first one is easy to explain. I just want to draw your attention to the wonderful piece of art which is the painting La Trahison des images (The Treachery of Images) by belgian surrealist painter René Magritte. I am not much of a painting person myself, to be honest. But the work of René Magritte somehow resonates with me and I consider myself a fan. There are many of his paintings I like, but The Treachery of Images is one of my all time favorites.
As you can see, the painting clearly depicts a pipe. Below it, Magritte wrote, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.”, French for “This is not a pipe.”
And you know what? He is right!
The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture ‘This is a pipe’, I’d have been lying! – René Magritte
The second motivation is a bit more opinionated. You can safely skip it and go look at the other works of Magritte. That’s fine by me.
It is actually closely related to the artwork above. It revolves around the principle that the image of a thing is not the thing itself.
“Well, thank you, captain Obvious”, you might say.
An image can show a real thing or not. But even if it does, you usually do not see the thing in it’s entirety and within context. You also tend to neglect all the things you do not see. You might have heard about the “What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI)” principle, a term coined by Daniel Kahneman in his famous book Thinking, Fast and Slow. It’s one of the biases our mind is subject to and causes us to disregard the things we do not immediately see, even though we know they exist.
I always get reminded of The Treachery of Images, when people around me start talking about something amazing they saw on social media. This is nothing new. Even in the past, our view has always been distorted by media, especially tabloid ones. But at least the object of the media was usually (pseudo-)celebrities and politicians and somehow you knew this was not real. But things like Facebook and Instagram allowed everyone to be, or at least pretend to be, the star of their own tabloid. The people you know.
If you have 800 “friends” on Facebook, I can guarantee, that at any given time, someone is always on some exotic vacation in Thailand, their kid won an award or they are eating at some fancy restaurant. And even though all of these images depict things that really happened, they are not the whole thing, which is an individual life.
You should keep in mind, that some of the smartest people on this planet are working all day on one thing–keeping you glued to that screen and maximize the time you spend with their app. And it turns out, the way to do that, is maximize the number of your “friends” and thus increase the probability that at any given time, there is something interesting happening in your timeline. And prioritize this “interesting” content over the mundane.
The adverse effect of this is, of course, that you start feeling inadequate. Like somehow everyone is doing something with their life, except you. Someone might feel depressed. Someone will start at least faking it. Someone will spend money they do not have, to keep the image up. It’s the new form of rat race. Don’t fall for it.
Or maybe I am just getting old and this is my modern version of “get off my lawn”. That would actually be better for everyone.