Your First Profile Picture

January 14, 2019

Over the last week or so, many of us have engaged in the “How Well Have You Aged” challenge.  This involves posting our first Facebook profile picture alongside our current one.  For the majority, we have aged quite well.

I’m very aware of the fact that this is part of a yet-to-be-determined social experiment on facial recognition or research for cameras/skin care/Fountain of Youth solutions.   The jury is out on what exactly the exercise is for, but regardless, it brings to mind another evolution.

Imagine (or remember) our society before Facebook.   Think of that time when we lived our lives without daily documentation.  Remember when conversations were had over a cuppa coffee or a cocktail.  There was a time when we could not simply comment and berate our fellow human beings.  In the past, facts mattered a lot more and perceptions were developed through a greater sense of reality, rather than an Instafilter that alters just about everything.

Back in the old days, to be an expert, one had to have schooling and actual experience.  Today, simply reading a blog post gives us false credibility.  With the open microphone of our social channels, we can make claims about how to get rich, how to be successful and how we can do it if we just hustle a little more.

Social media experts once touted authenticity and transparency as the key to success.  Sounded easy enough, right?  Then filters came along,  joined by the tiny sliver of reality that many share with their followers.  It is real? Yes.  Is it authentic, not in the slightest?

We can fake confidence, hidden behind a screen and a Google search.  We can be so very wrong, but who’s checking?

Before the days where our smart devices ruled our lives, we were different.  We didn’t just look younger or have more frizz in our hair, we behaved differently.  We didn’t have an anonymous forum to spew whatever emotion we wanted.  We had to have real conversations with people we knew were human.  Adults didn’t name call like kids on the playground as often or as easily as they do now.  Those were the days.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Social media has done many great things.  It’s created friendships that never would have been made in an offline universe.  It helped launch new businesses, and for a while, leveled the playing field for small business to compete with global giants.  It built communities and brought us news and information at rates faster than we could have ever imagined.  It made us news junkies.

Personally, my life has been enriched by the people I’ve connected with and the those I’ve been able to stay in touch with over years and miles.  But I’ve also missed out.   I’ve spent more hours with my neck down, searching for something on the tiny screen.  Is it breaking news? A new baby or engagement announcement?  Is it a humorous video or meme that had me in tears of laughter?   What do we seek when we bury our faces in “the book” and what do we miss out on when we simply live in the undocumented moment?

As more and more people abandon social media for a less connected life, the world will evolve once again. Will this period in time be mocked by those in the future who find such absurdity in our digital obsessions? Will those businesses that are so deeply ingrained in the digital world fail as mindfulness and presence become the new norm? Will kindness and courtesy emerge again and we remove the electronic barriers that separate us?

I don’t have the answers.  What I do know is that we can control what we do today.  Should we choose to stay active and engaged online, we can be kinder.  We can be respectful.  We can have open dialogues and disagree without being nasty.  We can correct misinformation when it is spread unintentionally.   We can use social media and be good humans.

When I look back at my first profile picture, I don’t think about how well I’ve aged. Instead, I wonder what my life would be like today without Facebook.  I’m certain it would look completely different, even if I look the same.