Vlogging Your Life, Whether You Like it or Not

Posted January 3, 2016

“It’s so sad. His world is fake, and he doesn’t even know it.”

I inevitably hear this comment at least once during the school year after my 6th-grade class reads The Giver. I like to pair the book with “The Truman Show” so that the students can really get a good sense of what it would be like to live in an artificial world where everything seems staged, and everybody is playing a part. However, I’m beginning to think reading the book, as great as it is, and watching the movie has become pointless for the younger generations.

My students already live in that kind of world.

The realization has been rattling around my brain for a while now, but it truly hit home this Saturday while I was out for brunch. In the middle of a meal, two overly made up Russian woman sat down in the seats next to me, talking loudly and incessantly.  It took me a little while to realize that it was one of the most one-sided conversations I had ever heard, so I glanced out of the corner of my eye and saw that the woman sitting next to me had propped her phone up against the water pitcher and was FaceTiming.

It seemed odd, so I took another bite and glanced again: there was no other box; I was only seeing her face. Intermittently, little hearts would fly up on the screen and messages would flash across the bottom like a news ticker. She wasn’t making a call, she was video blogging her dining experience.

Vlog

When I waiter came and asked politely if he could take the water pitcher, the Russian woman lifted the phone and changed her angle, giving her viewers the full scope of the restaurant, including me, sitting next to her, drinking my Bloody Mary. The comments kept piling in, the hearts kept flying off her screen, and this woman kept talking.

For the entirety of my meal.

For at least thirty minutes, she and her friend sat beside me, applying make-up, checking the lighting in their photos, and speaking into a phone, now resting against her own water glass. When the waitress came to drop off their food, the women picked up their phones, but kept their phones moving, dodging the waitress’ arms like they were navigating a minefield.

“Hey, maybe you’ll be famous,” the bartender said to me as the Russian women were preoccupied with their screens.

I laughed politely, realizing that everybody else was equally as dumbstruck that this was happening. But that’s the thing: we were all involved. It was happening in our own lives, only I wanted more than anything just to make it stop.

On a normal Saturday morning, I was trying to enjoy good food, a spicy Blood Mary and quality time with another human being; yet, my attraction felt pulled by the artifice that was taking place one foot from my face. It tainted everything about the experience.

Sure, it was funny and amusing to think that there were over a hundred people who were “liking” a video of a woman eating brunch, but then there was the slow realization that everything around me began to feel just a little more fake. The hundreds of people “liking” her video became less funny and became more scary and sad.

What if this is what life is becoming? What if more and more examples of artificial existence, vlogging lunches for people in other countries instead of eating your own food, were going to seep into my everyday life whether I chose to accept it or not? Would I be able to keep my own priorities straight if the nature of interactions and social decorum around me kept changing? Maybe my ability to make my own experiences feel genuine wasn’t solely in my control but was affected by others around me. Their constant need to perform would make me an actor too, and my only choice would be whether I was a feature attraction or just some extra in the background.

So when my students talk about how horrible it is that Truman and Jonas unknowingly live in world’s that are built on artificial interaction and constructions, I’ll have to ask them if it’s any worse than being aware you’re living in such a world and being powerless to do anything about it.