When I was in college (many years ago), I learned how to use Adobe Photoshop (software that let’s you edit your photos) the hard way – I took a class. These days, however, anyone can learn the tricks of Photoshop simply by trying it out. In fact, using Photoshop has become so commonplace that we’ve even turned it into an adjective and a verb; for example, a photo that has been distorted or enhanced in any way through any digital means is “photoshopped.” “To photoshop” is to manipulate any photo with any kind of software, the most common being Adobe Photoshop.
It’s a fun skill. I can cut out photos of myself and put them next to celebrities. If anyone is missing at a reunion, I can make him appear in all the photographs. Or if I’m really bored, I can make memes or create a thought-provoking new photo to prove a point.
Of course, those are just some of its less useful applications. The program is really great for enhancing pictures. And I’m not just talking about the way photographers use it for adjusting the light or cropping the photos. I’m talking about removing unwanted pimples and sunspots, enhancing color, removing flab, or in the case of one infamous celebrity, creating a thigh gap. And this is what’s got me a little worried. The thing is, we only feel the need to edit our photos when we intend to publish them. Otherwise, we wouldn’t really care.
And it’s not just photos we’re photoshopping either. We are, in fact, photoshopping our own lives too. There exist our true selves. There also exists the self that we project to others – the people we love or work with or relate with. And then there is our digital self – the one whose image we hope people will “like” and will “follow.” We create pressure on ourselves to make our lives appear more interesting or less ordinary than they actually are.
With so many selves to keep track of, we might find that we are gradually losing our real self. We are tempted to gloss over the difficult and unpleasant parts of our lives and highlight the good stuff – like those quick edits that videographers and photographers do at weddings and baptisms and parties. In five minutes, they can create a story out several ten second shots or hundreds of photos. The best parts of our lives crammed into a music video or a 140-character tweet or a hashtagged phrase or an instagram photo.
Our digital life makes it seem as though our real life is a series of one fabulous event after another, of crowning achievements, of newsworthy outfits of the day, of overseas trips and witty conversations punctuated by highly exaggerated accounts of small annoyances.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think we should pull the plug on our digital lives. I have social media accounts of my own. It’s great for keeping in touch with people and for expressing myself. I just think it’s good for us to ask questions every once in a while just to keep ourselves in check: Do I post things to make myself look better in front of others? Do I care too much about how others perceive me? Do I uplift others or add negativity? How worthwhile is it to tell the world what I’m feeling right this moment? Do I relate with someone based on how he treats me or on what I perceive his online personality to be? How close is my online identity to who I really am?
With the limited time we have in this world, maybe we shouldn’t really be putting too much effort on photoshopping our digital selves; maybe, what we really should be working on is improving our real selves – becoming better human beings, being more generous and patient, more compassionate and helpful, more genuine and trustworthy – you know, all the things that don’t always end up on a Twitter post, or a Facebook feed.
[Originally written in TACKED THOUGHTS for The Freeman
by Nancy Unchuan Toledo]
ABOUT NANCY UNCHUAN TOLEDO
When Nancy started teaching high school at age 21, she didn’t really think she’d make a career out of it. She was right. Ten years later and she realized teaching isn’t her career, it’s her passion. Writing is her passion, too, and she writes a bi-monthly column for the Freeman. Mostly she writes about her family, her friends, her students, her experiences in teaching, her love of books and her faith. Because those are the things that she cares about the most–although not necessarily in that order.
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