Digital Death: On Essena O'Neill And Life As A Lie

BY LISA MARIE BASILE

It's so easy to turn to social media for validation. We've learned to measure our life in likes and follows, hoping to fill the black hole caused by, ironically, choosing to digitally project rather than connect with actual, real-life human beings. I know I do, sometimes. And it makes me feel cheap. I go to bed numb, wondering why I even posted that, and if the shamers are somehow right, if the #selfie is actually the mark of Satan, and if I've given in, like a weakling, absorbing the millisecond of approval gained from bored click-click-clickers who don't know a thing about me. 

The Internet is a scary place.

An Instagram star can quit social media (and getting paid $2000 to post a picture of a dress) and then cry into a video about how she's found the light - only to be told she's fucking histrionic and doing it for attention. 

This is what I like to call a perfectly contrived candid shot. Nothing is candid about this. While yes going for a morning jog and ocean swim before school was fun, I felt the strong desire to pose with my thighs just apart #thighgap boobs pushed up #vsdoublepaddingtop and face away because obviously my body is my most likeable asset. Like this photo for my efforts to convince you that I’m really really hot #celebrityconstruct
— Essena ONeil

Regardless, seeing this Insta-star-turned crusader-for-truth is important.

What we see: two glasses of red wine on a table, maybe there's a little white votive there. And you read: dinner with friends xo (glass emoji). 

What you don't hear is that the two of you sat trying to figure out why your libido is basically gone, why your grief is taking too fucking long already, how you're struggling to pay your health insurance, how you don't know if you're living in the right city or if you're just crazy, ungrateful or spoiled. 

The fact is that sometimes social media can help us understand each other, connect, inspire each other and to dialogue - shout, reverberate and demand - about the injustice and wounds of this world. 

Me. What do you see? What don't you know?

Me. What do you see? What don't you know?

But the #SwipeGeneration is both the root and the cause of its own sadness. It's not naive to say we've learned how to amplify our own dissociation and discontent. Life is hard, thought, right? It was hard before iPhones and emojis and trending discussions. It was probably harder. But right now, for anyone with a smart phone, life consists of something deeper than ennui, disappointment and disillusionment. That something, undefinable.

But the quiet pain gets worse, because the broadcast of falseness and glamour is constant; it's the friend by your side, constantly by your side, looking gorgeous and perfect and skinny and smart and on vacation and with other friends who are probably prettier and richer and more interesting than little old you. And they went to Ibiza. And they wear things by designers you've never heard of. 

You, who are trying to just make it through a day at work, through 3 hour commutes, through the phone call with your sick mother. You, who posts a selfie at the end of it all in your new green glittering dress because for a moment you feel really alive, and what the hell, you look good, and sometimes it's all just for a memory - a moment, and not a lie.

But no one knows the difference.

And when we are caught in the web of sparkly stories, we start to wonder if life itself in an illusion, thus causing that sadness to fester not only because we don't have Instagram-worthy lives or bodies, but because - what the fuck? - we can't even determine if we're in a real world anymore. We might even know it's not the truth, but isn't that worse? It's like saying, "hello robot!" to your neighbor, and then stepping back to think for second: "wait, where is your flesh?" It never dawned on you. It never meant much. But you miss it. The fragrance of livelihood. 

In photos - that girl, and that guy, and that family - where are your cracks? Are you sad about your cracks? Why don't you show them? Are you ok? 

I don't have an answer. But this conversation is necessary and, likely, the first of many for the next few years. 

Because since the advent of digital community, we're only now slipping into the post-novelty era, when we look down at the blood on our hands and think, "it was fun while it lasted, but what or who did I kill?"