How Periscope Makes Social Media More Human

All too often my mornings start with Facebook. My feed casually announces that the Best Things Ever have just happened to all my friends: they’ve gotten married, birthed babies, ran a marathon, or even won a televised fight. Whew. As I shuffle into the bathroom I’m just proud I got up before eight.

And I’m not the only one who feels a little inadequate while perusing social media. At least two studies have documented the phenomenon, and it was even linked it to depression. So what’s going on here?

Digital Makeup

Consider your Facebook feed. What do you tend to post about? If you’re like me and my friends, it’s things that evoke positive, rather than negative emotions. I’m much more likely to post about a race I ran than a bad date, depressed mood, or failed project. That doesn’t make me dishonest, of course — it’s just a basic human tendency to celebrate your successes and conceal your failures.

But it means that Facebook as a platform suffers from what I’m going to call the digital makeup effect: the experience of interacting with people through a social media filter which has smoothed out real life’s wrinkles and enhanced its beauty. We see all our friends’ Best Things Ever, but few of their Worst Things Ever. If we were to talk to our friends in real life, we would find their lives are more complex than the little list of successes they’ve compiled on Facebook. But we peruse these lists anyway, and the inevitable comparisons we make are fundamentally unfair. Hence, the feelings of inadequacy.

Enter Periscope

Compare all this to an interaction I had recently on Periscope. (In case you’re not familiar with the app, it lets you broadcast live video from your phone to friends and the public. People viewing the feed can interact with the broadcaster by text comments but not video or voice.)

A couple weeks ago I tuned in to a BBC Radio broadcaster who was about to do an on-air report about Periscope. Before he began, I poked fun at his colleague who was making hand gestures as she spoke into the microphone, as if her radio listeners could see her. When he began his report, he repeated my comment and her face flushed with embarrassment. I could tell he immediately regretted what he said but he was live, so he simply went on.

In that moment, the digital makeup was off. It was awkward, it was funny, and it was real life. It’s this lack of digital makeup which makes Periscope a fundamentally more human platform.

Risk

I’m not sure Periscope will survive as an app or even as a medium. To broadcast yourself live to the world or even just friends is a risky endeavor. You have to show yourself without digital makeup: your dog might jump up and bite you, your son might say something stupid, or a viewer might embarrass you. But by opening yourself to those risks you also open yourself to the spontaneous acts of generosity and warmth Periscope is known for. For my part, it’s worth the risk.

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