You Don't Need To Document Everything
Stop selling your life off so cheaply to strangers
I’m sure by now you’ve seen this video of Paris on New Year’s Eve, where everyone is so busy filming the countdown and fireworks on their phones that they forget to experience them. It’s surreal.
This is obviously something that’s been happening for over a decade now—people documenting events instead of being in the moment. But it’s not just events anymore. People document everything now. Every mundane moment of their lives. What they wear. What they eat. What they buy. And as well as ordinary things people now feel the need to document profoundly personal moments, from health scares to mental breakdowns to their first time seeing a baby after it’s born:
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Of course influencers are the ultimate example of this. Especially annoying to me are the couples who document their entire relationships online. I will never understand the amount of comments saying couple goals and how do I find this! to the most staged, rehearsed, insincere moments I’ve ever seen. I can’t get my head around applauding people who set up a camera in the corner to record themselves being romantic. Like everyone praising this husband for how caring he is as he films his pregnant wife crying for TikTok. And gushing over couples who grind up every intimate moment into content—pregnancy reveals, marriage proposals, telling my girlfriend I love you for the first time. The most meaningful experiences in human life—things that happen once, twice, never again—corrupted by thoughts like is the camera getting my good angle.
But worse, the absolute worst, are the parents, the influencer parents who document their kids’ entire childhoods online. Parents who share and monetise every milestone, every emotion, every phase, every tantrum, sometimes every day of their children’s lives. Who let strangers rate and review their children (“YOU MADE THEM CRY! reading mean comments!”). Who shove a vlogging camera in their baby’s face from the moment they are born (“FIRST 48 HOURS WITH OUR NEWBORN IS NOW LIVE!”). Who document their 6 year-old’s gender transition (“IT’S NOT A PHASE!”). Trust me there’s nothing worse than this influencer who accidentally posted footage of her forcing her son to cry for the camera:
Influencers are of course the most extreme examples—but this impulse is so ingrained in everyone now. This pressure to post everything. And I think it’s a massive cause of anxiety for Gen Z. There’s a sense now that something didn’t happen if you don’t share it. There are young people who wouldn’t understand going to an event, travelling somewhere, being in a relationship, if they couldn’t post about it. They would not see the point. They simply cannot conceive of a life that exists without an audience consuming it. Like, for example, the popular belief now that if your boyfriend doesn’t post photos of you he’s cheating or doesn’t really love you. Or it’s a red flag if you meet someone and they aren’t on social media (just me who thinks this is a major green flag?)
And we’re so addicted and used to reflexively recording everything that we end up excusing the weirdest behaviour. They just want to remember the fireworks! Really? There’s crowds of people all capturing the same thing; they will likely never watch that video back, and if they’re posting it online that’s not for memories; it’s for attention. It’s the same thing as ‘90s camcorders! In what world! Camcorders didn’t come with this urge, with this compulsion to constantly update people, with tying your self-worth to likes and followers. You’ll regret it if you don’t record it! Sure, capture occasional moments; keep them for you. But I think if this generation is on track to regret anything it will be the time we wasted documenting and editing and filtering and marketing ourselves for social media. Time we will never get back. My bet is we won’t look back at our hundreds of thousands of Instagram Stories and Snapchats and Boomerangs with fondness that we filmed these moments, but with aching regret that we didn’t fully feel them.
Because look at the people who do document their entire lives! Very often these perfect influencers are falling apart behind the camera. Again and again, perfect online couples seem to implode out of nowhere. Influencers who dedicate every waking moment to documenting their identity have no idea who they actually are. Women who post pictures of their faces from every angle and in every possible lighting hate how they look. Families who capture every moment of their perfect lives get caught in scandal after scandal. And still we keep falling for it: the illusion, the performance, the front. Almost 70% of Gen Z say social media makes them feel stressed, anxious and depressed; over half want to be influencers. What’s happening here? We so easily forget the emotional cost of sharing everything; we so easily forget that those who do are compensating.
Which is why I also really resent this assumption that people who don’t post much on social media are insecure or unhappy or hiding something. Often it’s the opposite. I’m pretty sure those with the best relationships post about them the least. That those with real confidence and self-love don’t need to post thousands of selfies to prove it. And that truly empowered people don’t depend on external validation for every feeling or opinion or decision they make. Isn’t that just a basic rule in life? That those who are the loudest about their achievements and relationships and morality often have the most doubts about them? And if I know one thing it’s that if you’re experiencing a genuinely moving moment, if you’re really in it, the absolute last thing you want or think about doing is taking out your phone, cutting through it and cheapening it. The best love is quiet. The best confidence is quiet. And so are the lives with the most meaning.
And anyway, here’s the truth: nobody cares about your life. They really don’t. I’m sorry but they watch your fireworks story for half a second. They hover over your selfie and then swipe to someone else’s. They skip through the concert you posted. They look at your life and immediately think about theirs. The people who actually care are the ones you don’t need to perform or prove anything to. Strangers don’t care about you, and that’s a fundamental truth social media platforms depend on us forgetting.
Maybe it’s also too depressing for some people to accept. But personally I find it a relief. You don’t need to document everything! Nobody cares anyway! And I think young girls need a reminder that this pressure to constantly post and update is very new; this pressure to live your life and also perform and market it to everyone at the same time; you are the first generation to feel it this intensely, and, also, you can free yourself from it. It’s unnecessary. And these influencers who do post everything are not people to aspire to. If they influence you of anything it should be to not copy their deranged behaviour and document your entire life online. You don’t want to be anything like people who bring ring lights to hospital to give birth. Who turn their father’s funeral into a photoshoot (#ptsd!). Who hold their newborn baby with one hand and scroll through their Instagram likes with the other. Don’t start heading in that direction, because there’s no life there. These people have traded privacy and sometimes their own human decency for an existence designed entirely for strangers. Their lives are often superficial and empty in exchange.
Aspire to be different! Aspire to be someone who gets so caught up in the moment they forget to share it; who protects their personal life while everyone else hands theirs over so freely; who can see the value in a moment without needing strangers to validate it for them. Be someone rare. It’s a cruel trick of modern life to convince us that everyone cares what we’re doing, all the time; that everyone is deeply invested in how we live and how we identify and how we feel. Seriously believing that is enough to make anyone mentally ill. And looking at famous influencers with fans who are that invested, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
So put the camera down. Don’t document everything. Stop selling your life off so cheaply to strangers. Keep some things sacred. Let some memories fade and look back at them through fuzzy nostalgia instead of the cheap glare of an iPhone camera roll. Enjoy the fireworks.
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