One of the most delicious ways to spend a summer afternoon is propping yourself down on a bench and people watching.
Am I wrong? It feels like the refreshingly unedited version of what we do on Instagram and Facebook every day. All of these individuals walking around sans filter or tongue-in-cheek caption; I’m witnessing behind-the-scenes footage here!
Social media encourages us to edit, edit, edit until all that’s left is a somewhat flat caricature of who we actually are. As a result, we’re more often exposed to and interact with the personas of those in our social networks than we are with the actual humans behind them.
What does that mean for people watching? Oh, baby. It feels indulgent. Because rather than seeing someone’s hyper-edited story online, we get a glimpse of the first draft instead.
Seeing people as they are feels like a privilege today. I live for seeing the familiar glances between two friends before they erupt into laughter; for the briefest moment of serenity sweep across an old woman’s face watching children play; and even for the somber moments, like a fleeting indignant eyebrow raise at a friend’s remark or the quickest roll of the eyes from a couple deciding on dinner.
Seeing people as they are feels like a privilege today.
Half the time, yes, I’m probably completely off base on my interpretations of situations. But, hey, I’ll craft a story from whatever I can get. And through this internal storytelling, I feel connected to the strangers around me. They’re no longer one dimensional characters smiling on patios and going for brunch. With every eye roll or unabashed laugh, I am reminded of the fact that every one of us has a universe full of thoughts, anxieties, dreams & memories all rattling away inside of our skulls. And that brings me some much needed comfort sometimes. It’s like, hey, remind yourself, we’re all figuring our shit out. Daily.
I’m not expecting anyone to put their whole story out there. Our first draft hardly suffices for ourselves; why would we risk sharing it with the world? But, paradoxically, I think there’s something deeply instinctual about wanting to risk it all, to share every last bit of ourselves with someone. Maybe anyone. Perhaps that’s what we’re trying to do through social media, but our nerves get the best of us. We ache to be seen, to let people in, but shy away from sharing the very qualities that make us, well, human.
There’s something incredibly lonely about the fact that no one can see the world the way you do. Sure, it’s beautiful. It’s life! But it’s also frightening. When we tell a story, though, we’re inviting others to see the world through our eyes. We’re saying, step inside my life for a moment. And, just like that, we’re no longer alone.
But, paradoxically, I think there’s something deeply instinctual about wanting to risk it all, to share every last bit of ourselves with someone.
I just think, most of the time, we’re inviting people into a story that isn’t real. The connection we crave, then, is misdirected towards a persona instead.
People watching, in all of its unedited glory, serves as a reminder that these personas only graze the surface of our humanity. Sitting on this bench, I am let backstage to the digital performances paraded about online, and I am reminded that we’re all participating in the same absurd reality. Because with every selfie I see being snapped, I also see the awkward, silly little creatures behind the camera who then promptly turn around to make six thousand chins to their friends.
Next up, some rooms I would like to make six thousand chins in and spend entire afternoons with my friends. (I am so good at segues.)
Ciao for now.