TikTok and social media pressure us to perform our daily lives on an invisible stage
When I was a freshman in college, I would attempt to wake up every morning roughly around 6 a.m. to meditate. While half-asleep, I would scan through the various guided meditations on YouTube and finally settle on one that promised me inner Zen. I’d follow this routine with a workout and glass of green juice — all before my 9 a.m. lecture.
If I had chosen to film my routine in snippets and place a trending song in the background on TikTok, it likely would have gone viral. Perhaps the comments would be filled with remarks such as “The ultimate clean girl aesthetic,” or “We love a productive queen.” Except, I wasn’t filming anything at all. Meditating drives me insane, and green juice makes my stomach turn.
How does one perform so tirelessly for an audience that doesn’t exist?
MORE:Central York's kids are alright. The administrators? Not so much
MORE:Supreme Court gets what it deserves as public approval plummets
For a lot of Gen Zers, this phenomenon of an invisible stage feels unconscious. Some of us may even enjoy the dance we put on. We are the generation that birthed and nurtured influencer culture, after all. Still, the almost innate desire to calculate day-to-day life in terms of aesthetic, even without a camera in hand, feels more like an infection than anything else.
Some in the federal government have called TikTok a national security risk as discussion of data collection remains the top concern for the country. While I am sure that reason is as viable as any, I cannot help but feel our influx of media consumption at rapid rates is far larger of a concern.
We behave in a system in which individual moments lose their authenticity and instead become pixels to be seized for the possibility of later viewing. We subscribe and profit off this way of living as if it’s normal — and in many ways, it is. An animal at a zoo is thrown a piece of meat, and there is a brief moment in time in which the artificial and staged hunt feels natural. Until it remembers it’s in a prison.
Consider the panopticon. It is a circular jail design centered around one guard — the idea being that the prisoners will feel they could be under surveillance at any given moment. The main principle behind the design is discipline, the constant possibility of being patrolled — instilling good behavior from each inmate. While French philosopher Michel Foucault discussed panopticism as a theory in his book “Discipline and Punish” in 1975, the concept is nothing new. It fills our literature and sci-fi movies, but what is bothersome is how it has filled and consumed our lives.
We recognize that we film and capture moments to be perceived in the way we desire so they can be broadcast as such. With endless capturing comes the internalization and imitation of behavior that, subconsciously or not, we have deemed as “good.” We scroll through videos of couples reading poetry to one another or even some girl making her perfect bed. This is good behavior, the kind that is so good it makes sleeping past 10 a.m. or not having a boyfriend feel so achingly bad.
I turn 20 this year and have just begun to realize my failure to separate these curated 10-second clips from real life. I’ve found myself wondering if my home videos for my future children will be tainted by a subconscious desire to be aesthetically pleasing. I wonder if my child will look back on milestones like riding a bike through the lens of a day in my life video.
Will we remember our youth the way it was or the way we performed for it to be?
I realize these matters and feel this urge to scream. I don’t want to be productive today, and I don’t want to make my bed or bake a healthy recipe. No one is watching me, and I know this, but I feel their breath upon my shoulder and their gaze with each movement I make. This neglect, this inability to see the saturation within the media we consume — it’s undoubtedly the cement beneath the panopticon we live in. And we’ve built it ourselves.
Without confronting this issue head-on, we won’t ever be able to make an escape. Most of us understand the absurdity of setting up a camera to capture a moment as mundane as making a gluten-free lunch for your children or running on a treadmill. Yet, we still are unable to separate these acts from real life, and in that way, we are unable to separate these acts from ourselves. Who are you when you aren’t in a tireless pursuit of achieving the clean girl aesthetic or having a productive morning? What do these moments feel like when you aren’t thinking about how you can warp and perform them for later?
The only way to find out is to step out, to see life outside of pixels and their false importance.
While it’s true that social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok have robbed our generation of authenticity, we aren’t completely helpless. Now more than ever, discussions around apps like TikTok are playing a larger and larger role in our country’s social climate — with Gen Z at the very forefront.
If we can free ourselves, perhaps we will feel less of a desire to store experiences on the shelf. Maybe one day, we will love our life’s experiences just as they come — just as our parents did. While the path to breaking down our inner panopticon is nowhere near simple, I am sure of one thing. If we cannot make a conscious choice to be present now, the way we interact with social media will begin to turn into the way we interact with ourselves.
We don’t need to save these moments for later. Let us be hungry now and savor each as they come.
— Olivia Krupp is originally from Chicago. She is a sophomore majoring in journalism and minoring in photography at the University of Arizona and the editor of the opinions desk for the student newspaper The Daily Wildcat.