Years back, I was invited to a party I did not want to attend but got dragged along. I was bored to heights. I was with a friend of mine and a friend of hers. Her friend did not know anything about me and hence wanted to strike a conversation. The bored state of my mind suddenly popped up this idea in my head to play a little prank. He asked me so what do you do on weekends? What are your hobbies? Do you drink? Do you play sports? Bla bla bla. I picked up a personality very different from mine on purpose and replied back with answers that will come from a person of that type and also which he will find dull. So I painted an image that I don't drink, I don’t play any sports, I visit temples on weekends and I really don’t get the concept of social gatherings. The guy was totally shocked and started mocking “Dude, how do you survive? What do you do to enjoy? etc etc”. I kept replying in accordance to the image I wanted to set up.
The conversation went on for half an hour and the guy was totally shocked that a person like me (the image I portrayed) exists. After 30 mins, my friend and I couldn’t take it anymore and we burst out in laughter. We told him that he has just experienced a prank and I am not at all like what has been told to him for last 30 minutes. The guy was dazzled! He just couldn’t believe that I am a different person than what he perceived. Following that he asked me several questions confirming that is this true? So that is also not true? And so on. I told him “Dude just put a not operator in front of everything I said to you”. He was confused and shocked, he just asked so “Who are you?”. Well this was just done for fun, but it left me with some amazing insights into how one’s brain works. Our brains feed on “data points” and actively keep making connections between the known ones to comprehend a situation or a person. Many ML algorithms try to mimic the same in order to find solutions to a problem. We develop interpretations on top of the data points we gather. That’s exactly how the biases also develop.
Now the fun thing is that, since we ourselves “develop” these interpretations, often mindlessly/unconsciously, we believe them deeply. We treat this as our own assessment of something and we are bound to believe in it. Maybe that’s the same reason why it’s so much difficult to “recognize” a bias and then get rid of it.
Now let’s draw an analogy of this human brain conditioning through verbal conversation to our interactions on Instagram. While other social medias might also exhibit the same properties, let’s take Instagram as it’s the most relatable. I consider Instagram as a very well crafted tool, an amazing place to showcase your work and build connections. It offers features like putting up Stories, posting in your feed, putting up videos on IGTV etc. So what happens when you connect with someone you don’t know much about on Instagram? You create a channel to receive posts from them. Bluntly put, you offer them the control to create your perception of them in your head. Confused?
Every story that they share is a data point. Whenever a human brain sees something, it develops a perception of it. The more interested you are into learning about the other person the more gullible you are to fall for this perception. Suppose I have started following a person named John Doe. I don’t know anything about the person.
John puts up an image of a plant. I’d perceive John’s into gardening.
John puts up the image of a book he just read. I’d perceive, John likes books.
John puts up a photo of himself with his friends, I’d perceive John’s a social person.
And so on, the perception keeps getting shaped with every story/post being shared by John. You usually learn about people in real life in similar ways too, but there are certain important differences that are ignored when perceptions are developed “digitally”.
There’s no “undo” : When we learn about a person in real life, simply because a person buys a plant we don’t assume that the person likes gardening. Over a period of time, we see, if the person is watering the plant properly, does he have other plants? Then we develop a perception that the person likes gardening. If a person buys a plant and leaves it to die out dry, then he doesn’t like gardening. So an act is not a notion. A collection of acts is a notion. However on Instagram, it’s only one act that is usually shown. John bought a plant. Period. Seven days later the plant died but that’s not on the story so I don’t get to know about it. I learnt that he likes plants and that’s it. That image cannot be undo-ed due to lack of information. Also, if you think about it there’s no direct way to pictorially represent that John doesn’t like plants.
It’s a timeless world: Extending the same example, we don’t keep track of time on Internet. One snap of one instant is all we have got on Instagram. So we are not getting image of the same plant over a time period to actually analyze that John takes care of the plant.
The images are biased: Most people prefer putting up only positive/happy images on Instagram. It’s likely, many people would like to behave so in their real lives too, but that’s a lot difficult. So it might happen easily that a person puts up a positive inspiring quote but is actually suffering from depression. It’s only when you get to live with the person that you actually get to know what the person is truly made up of. Why does that happen? There are multiple reasons for that:
(i) It’s a choice : We don’t always choose how to act/live our life “every moment” of the day, but when we share a story on Instagram, we have a choice, which image to pick from the gallery, what to write, so we consciously put up the one we believe is the best depiction of ourselves. (ii) It’s easy : It’s easy to upload an image of the cover page of the book to tell people I’m a reader than to actually read the book. (iii) People tend to care for what others think of them: This makes them post what they want others to think about them. Hence, learning about a person through their Instagram is one of the biggest deception one can offer to one’s brain. But still a lot of people fall for it every day, subconsciously, and also because they don’t really have any other choice or data point to know more about the person. These are what I call the “Flawless Instagram personas”. Honestly, we are living in a world full of them. I am doing it, you are doing it, we are all in the same boat, self-identifying and learning about other people through what they choose to present conveniently. Is it easy to do a mind-hacking using these tricks? I’d say “undoubtedly”. You can make people believe what you want. And the belief would be very strong, because you deceive them into believing that it’s their own perception, it’s something they themselves created over time, which they did but it was based on only the data points/inputs that you provided. We all are living in the age where this is happening consciously and un-consciously on a daily basis.
So, what’s the catch? Is there a silver lining? The only catch is stop using only these apps to know about a person, knowing a person in real life is so much better and less of a deception. Secondly, try not to Insta-lie yourselves (one can only try, it’s difficult because it is psychologically ingrained, we might not even know we are lying). Lastly, here are some random thoughts I got: I read it somewhere, that when you identify yourself as someone, there are bigger chances that you’d end up being that identity. I just wish that the same holds true for Instagram, all the people out there who are trying to identify themselves as the best versions of themselves actually become them. (That’d be so fun). However, this is just a random thought. Another random thought is around Quantum Physics which says “When you see it, it exists”, can this be possible of our Flawless Instagram personas, haha, I just hoped it would have rolled out that way. Who knows? Universe is mysterious, so are our minds and our selves. Anyway, so that was the thought train I wanted to capture in this blog post. Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Feel free to engage in similar discussions anytime! Thanks for reading. Take care and beware of falling for the flawlessness of IG images :) See you soon in the next post. Adieu.
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