Our dangerous quest for a perfect facade
Do you know Super-Me? He is a little like me but perfect. He’s always motivated, always reasonable, interested, he has all those fascinating projects going and is always working on something really cool. He is political but always able to compromise, never extreme. He is the guy who I describe on my job application, the person that my carefully crafted online persona looks like.
Most of us have these “designer avatars”, things that look a lot like us and share all of our positive qualities multiplied by eleven. The person we want others to believe we are. The person we want to believe we are, deep down. Our “perfect persona”.
From a very young age on we learn to completely trust our perfect twin. We learn how to present ourselves, which part of ourselves to share with the world and which part to hide. We learn phrases that are supposed to cover our imperfections. Because all the others look so awesome.
A few months ago a study about Facebook and the effects its use has was conducted among German students. The results were not that surprising: Seeing a constant flow of pictures and stories from lives so much more perfect than theirs made the students very envious, frustrated, and lonely. And why wouldn’t it?
Our social media timelines are part of how the world sees us and we have learned to make it look like the timeline our perfect persona would have: We post the most awesome pictures from our travels, we check into the coolest clubs at just the right time and we “friend” the people whose respect we want, whose acknowledgement we cherish.
Unless we can use them to build credibility in our peer group we do not share the trivial and boring facts of our lives. How we do laundry, how we have to bring out the trash, how our day at work or school was just dull. We avoid sharing failures except to show how we have overcome them and when we mess up online, we try to delete the mishap if possible (fingers crossed nobody took a screenshot).
Inflation of perfection
Now you might argue that it is good to know how to present yourself to the world. How to avoid being labeled “weird” or “strange”, how to make sure you are not offending anyone. Besides, everyone else is doing it, too! If you don’t present yourself right, how will you ever get a job or make new friends?
It boils down to us having a messed up idea of what perfection is. We learn that “different” is worse, that mistakes are something you don’t admit, that any sort of attitude or conviction is bad because someone, somewhere might be offended, might not hire us.
It’s a deeply economic perspective on human existence: You are a product you are trying to sell to others and you have to maximize your perceived value to maximize your gain.
And like in the actual economy it leads to inflation: Where in the beginning everybody was padding their product’s specs a little nowadays everything has to be the next best thing since the invention of waffles. Your cleaning agent “washes whiter than white”, your cookies are the most chocolaty cookies ever (until next week).
We put ourselves into a corner of perceived perfection: Everybody seems to be so great, so perfect, and I am just this average guy sitting in his living room on a Friday evening writing this text and listening to some music. Of course I feel like I don’t stack up well against the rest.
And what’s probably the worst aspect of this highly frustrating, demotivating, depressing, stressing situation is that we can’t really blame anyone. No evil mastermind planned and schemed to create this rat race, nobody forced us to behave like this. Nobody but parents and teachers and we ourselves meaning well.
Our perfect persona, our “me 2.0" twin is not our friend. He/she is an unattainable goal, a challenge we will never be able to meet, a task we will fail at. And from what we perceive, everybody else does not fail.
It’s always simple to ask for change in others. How can they expect you to live up to this chimera that you build? Why do they not cut you some slack? And with this challenge to everyone but ourselves we can meet again next week or in a year and complain in the same way. But why not try to fix things?
Most of us are not as great as the person we try to present to others. So what? I ask you to fail publicly, to be imperfect, lazy, sad, stressed out, lonely. Embrace all those kinda sucky but also kinda brilliant emotions and states of being in yourself and others. Cut others some slack when they do not live up to their ideal twin.
We are pushing people towards completely schizophrenic situations. On Twitter for example there is a thing sometimes called “Darktwitter”, a network of sorta-interconnected private so-called “rage accounts” where people split of all the “non-perfect” stuff. Is that the world we want to build? Is that the freedom we want the Internet to bring? The freedom to hide?
If there is hope in the Internet, it lies in seeing and learning to accept how flawed we all are, not in hiding our imperfections or deleting our past mistakes in order to clean ourselves up.
Our flaws are not just what makes us … well … us. Our past mistakes are also the milestones that we can measure our own personal growth with. If everything about you is perfect, squeaky clean, how can anybody ever see that you are willing and capable to learn? To admit mistakes?
It’s not about flooding every channel with every bad thing about you. It’s about stopping to believe that you can kid the world. And it’s about not making the world a competition for your fellow human beings. Fuck perfection.