In all honesty

18 September 2014 | Non-fiction, Tales of a journalist

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

 To puke or not to puke? Despite appearances, Jyrki Lehtola thinks there is too little truth on show on social media

I recall two brilliant articles that appeared years ago in Finland’s biggest gossip magazine.

In one of them, a vaguely famous radio host talked about his divorce and how badly he was doing since splitting from his wife. There’s nothing interesting or pioneering about this level of openness per se, but fortunately the magazine saw fit to depict the radio personality’s plight in a series of photos.

They published a photo story consisting of nine images showing him walking down the streets of Helsinki, until he suddenly recalls his divorce.

That thought makes him feel so awful, he sticks his fingers down his throat and – in the final frame – vomits his bad feelings all over the pavement.

Brilliant. The radio host had given his all to let the gossip mag readers know how much he was hurting.

The other memorable piece from a gossip mag was a survey in which some very minor celebs were asked about the most embarrassing thing that had ever happened to them. The answers were the same types of thing you always get in these pieces: I was late for an important meeting, I forgot my lines, I went to the wrong place at the wrong time, I’m just too good a person.

One respondent, a fitness instructor who has since faded into obscurity, really made an effort. She pondered the notion of embarrassment and delved deep into her psyche. Then the fitness instructor said it had been embarrassing once when she was exercising in front of a whole class, with her bum towards the group, and accidentally pooed in her tight Lycra leggings.

Brilliant. Suddenly, somebody takes a decades-old question that nobody has ever answered honestly, and gives an honest answer.

Could we please see something similar in social media too? The media that advocates said would transform the way we communicate information and that psychologists say will gradually change the entire structure of our minds?

But what have we got? The same old celeb journalism, but with smaller people. Andy Warhol declared that in the future, everybody would be famous for 15 minutes. The future went further than Warhol, though, and now we’re all famous for a few seconds to around 150 people.

It’s a shame that the discourse of fame has not changed, even though the audience for its updates has shrunk. Social media hasn’t provided a path to a new openness. Nobody posts embarrassing thoughts about their life, the delicate state of their psyche or their nausea about their divorce.

People apply the mantra from the most simplistic self-help books which say everything is always fine or at least is getting better. When people post on social media about losing their job, it does not lead to opening up about their own fears – just to a platitude about moving on, and how this sort of renewal is the spice of life.

Social media has become a self-penned gossip mag for wannabe celebs in which nobody says anything bad about themselves and everyone is constantly moving towards a better tomorrow, via plenty of clichés along the way. You don’t puke up your bad moods there; you keep them inside so you can say that as of now, you do feel good.

And it is there. A good feeling. Lovely spring, an even nicer summer, new projects, fruitful meetings, brilliant workplace, the world’s best family, soaring through the sunshine towards an even brighter light.

At the same time, we are experiencing a deepening global economic downturn in which more and more people are ending up in a dead end. This dead end in the daily papers’ financial pages is not to be found in social media. Social media is for winners, not the alienated. The alienated are alienated on social media as well, and the winners talk about being winners, even though they might have just lost everything.

Psychologists fret about how constant use of social media can weaken people’s ability to concentrate, make them restless, lead to sleep problems, and so on.

Yeah. right. Next, the psychologists might want to investigate what it does to a person’s own mind to constantly think about talking about oneself in a space where you cannot tell the truth, cannot say you’re feeling bad, and instead have to swallow your fears, worries, failures and say how, once again, you’re going to move on to your next victory.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote that we must always take care not to be the ones who let lies spread. Social media is the place where everyone ensures they are the ones who spread lies.

Translated by Ruth Urbom

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