I find myself wondering each time I pull out a camera or phone to document what’s going on why I feel compelled to capture that moment rather than just being present and living in it.
The occasional time-walk through my photo library shows images that take me back to where I was, but rarely reminds me why it was so important I captured that moment. I can’t even tease apart who I expected to show that image to, why that piece of avocado toast was so sexy (although I’m sure it was delicious), or what story I was trying to tell.
I expect, to a certain extent, I’ve learned to outsource my memory to my camera and notes apps. However, there is always that twinge where I assume I’ll need that photo to prove to others who I am or what I stand for.
Long before mobile phones or even photography, diaries were kept as a way to understand yourself and the world you inhabit. In the 18th and 19th centuries, as secular diaries became more popular women wrote about their everyday lives and the world around them. I remember having a diary as early as 2nd or 3rd grade. Clearly not a new phenomenon.
People have long used media to explore reflections of themselves and their lives. From cave drawings to diaries to selfies on Instagram, does it all boil down to innate narcissism or just an ingrained desire to explore the world from another angle?
It’s no wonder blogging blew up. It took our innate desire to document and let us splash it out to strangers, we get the thrill of spilling our guts but can temper the risk of telling our closest friends.
There’s this central concept in marketing and copywriting that much of the rest of the field spins around, like the center to a spoked wheel. It’s this idea of your target persona, your ideal customer, the laser-focused concept of the people you serve.
You always have to be thinking of what others want, need, and care about. You have to care what they think of you/your brand, constantly. You write to them, every time.
I thrash against the mindset of always thinking of the other person, the reader, each time I sit down to write.
It paralyzes me sometimes when I write for myself and my own brand (never happens when writing for clients thankfully, some really convenient compartmentalization exists there but I’m too close to my own work, probably why I have work in the first place…this happens to all of us!).
I don’t want to let that reader down. So instead, I end up letting myself down by not writing, or by cutting off my ideas or shaping them into something I barely recognize. We all do this at times.
Our culture is continually shifting in a way that takes very high stock of what other people think of us, and we’re quantifying their opinions with likes, retweets, comments, and shares. It’s why people relentlessly edit their photos for Instagram to be taller, thinner, and vaguely inhuman. It’s why I would take tons of photos but never post them to my own (now deactivated) Instagram.
I was thinking about the others as I shaped my digital presence to what I thought they would want me to be, and when I couldn’t make my life match this life I imagined I needed to show others, I hid. (I almost turned to stock photos like many branded accounts but it felt…wrong, at least for a personal brand)
It’s a big tension as a freelancer, your work overlaps your life. Where do you draw the line as a sole proprietor, a one-woman-show? I HAVE NO IDEA! I couldn’t keep the lines from being blurry and not knowing where my person ended and my brand began. And when we think about it everyone else is trying to exist in duality too, with a digital presence and an online one, they’re trying just as hard to present themselves favorably–whatever that means.
There’s bravery in showing up in a real way, without filters, without editing yourself to be more professional when really you just want to let it fucking rip. And there’s bravery in sitting down and writing and letting yourself be seen for having ideas and opinions of your own, especially when they go against the grain.
So, I’m still taking photos of things I find compelling but having bailed off my personal socials I don’t know why I keep doing it. I still take those snaps, and sometimes share these peeks of my existence with a close friend in a text. This desire to document and share is deep, it’s no wonder it was so easy for Zuck & Co to hack these behaviors.
It makes me wonder about this human desire to remind the world I exist, to stay relevant. Would I write this in public if I didn’t want someone to read it…even if the idea of being judged makes me itch? This is probably when I blame the patriarchy for training me to be silent and accommodating but that’s a riff for another day.
So, if you’re out there, reading this…thanks. I do want to know what you think, who you are, what drives you. I can’t help myself.
It’s human nature.