Look to Instagram to find the connection between smoked salmon on toast, nail polish, all forms of coffee, and the forest. Apparently, those things plus city buildings and Chucks and a meme of a chicken and a model in his underpants are what authenticity looks like. Thanks to Socality Barbie and her recent popularity, we've seen that making light of some of these things actually authenticates your desire to shed light on the inauthenticity of social media while you scratch your head and wonder if anybody really gets what she was trying to do in the first place.
The problem we are running in to is that those who are really living honest and authentic lives are being drowned out by the noise of espresso machines foaming milk for someone's latte art that they're about to post online #liveauthentic and the post and repost of someone standing on a log in front of a waterfall with a sign just out of frame saying that's a no-no #redjacket #liveauthentic. Hashtags are helpful, and don't I know it. They get eyes on your picture, help organize and categorize and we know that I have a disgruntled relationship with social media.
Remember when you had to give speeches in high school, and almost everyone opened with “Webster’s Dictionary defines authentic as…”? I almost wanted to lead with that. But here, really, is a definition:
1. of undisputed origin; genuine
2. based on facts; accurate or reliable; responsible
If the term has been redefined somehow and living an authentic life now means breaking rules to get attention, rewarding the extreme or trying to fit into a certain culture, then I am on the wrong side of it. Let's be real: How many insta-photographers put that tent on a cliffs edge and claim they woke up there this morning? I can't count how many pictures I've seen with a tent set up somewhere that I know a sign exists saying “No Camping” or it's actually a parking lot or its just plain dangerous. Someone bought a run down lemon of a van that they put pillows and a Mexican blanket in and went on a road trip? Awesome! But let’s also see the pictures of them underneath it trying find that terrible noise and the oil leak. Because that's what this looks like. And I love coffee, I do. If you know me at all, I do take pictures of my coffee. Guilty. Finally, the model in his underwear? K, I get it. You're a model. That's your job.
I see people living the most authentic lives all around us, often the most simple and honest of those lives go under the radar. While the phone is out taking a picture of the latte art to post online, the person behind the counter who has honed the skill of perfectly foamed milk, the tilt of the cup and the swish of the wrist to make that art over and over again has gone practically unnoticed. I appreciate those that acknowledge the skilled and the hard workers, the craftsmen and the newbies. I love a photo showing the beauty of a good hike or a gorgeous waterfall and I appreciate the honesty that it takes to acknowledge that it wasn’t right to hop the fence to get the shot, so this is what we got instead. Responsibility in story telling, in crafting an online profile or portfolio.
We have the privilege of meeting and staying with people that we would only continue to have a virtual relationship with if we hadn’t started out on this venture. We have been lucky enough to have an inspiring glimpse into their authentic lives and drive away changed by them. How Becky teaches her two-year-old letters and sounds, how Matt packs his art kit up the rocks to paint the view, how Betsy runs her business and her home with grace and love, how Daniel patiently works on his Westfalia… so many stories of people living honest and beautiful lives. How privileged are we to have these people leaving their mark on us? To me, that is what life is and what this trip is about.
I’m challenging myself just as much here as calling out the questionable #liveauthentic posts. My own instagram feed is mostly pretty pictures (and sometimes coffee) while I fall silent on some of the people that are making an impact and doing amazing things in our world, big and small.
Social media and the authentic life are powerful forces alone, but put those two together and we have a driving force for change. Rather than remake the same, restate the same or reward the same, why not create and acclaim something new? What person or organization that is working toward bettering the lives of others can we get behind and propel, posting their cause alongside our pictures of coffee and social events and the pretty, daily things? What can our voices online do to uplift and help one another, to support and move toward positive change?