A 13-Year-Old In A Museum

Nancy Collier

listen_btn

Image of the Week

On a recent visit to the Museum of Modern Art with a friend and her daughter, meandering through the museum’s exhibits, I was struck by how often my friend’s 13-year-old daughter asked us to take photos of her (on her Smartphone) in front of the artwork.  Her head tilted, she gazed contemplatively at the pieces, the photos of which she would then feverishly post on Instagram, Snapchat and all the rest. She was not by the way the only young (or older) person doing this; everyone it seemed was busy taking photos of themselves “experiencing” the museum.

This is by no means a criticism of my friend’s daughter (or anyone else). What was concerning, at least to me, was that in between being photographed and posting, my friend’s daughter had no interest in the artwork, a fact which didn’t seem to matter or have anything to do with wanting to post herself as someone enjoying the experience.  Now when I was her age, I had no interest in going to museums either, and when I did get dragged there, I couldn’t wait to get out of the building.  Having no interest in art at her age (and any age) is completely normal and not disturbing in the least.  

But what is disturbing is how much of a young person’s energy these days goes into creating an image of the life they’re living and the character they “are” in that life.  While creating a self-image has always been a big part of growing up and figuring out our identity, social media seems to have changed the rules of the game.  Social media has not just intensified the pressure and possibility to create a self-generated self-image, but also distorted the process by which we become who we are.  Young people now seem to be creating an image of who they are in place of becoming who they are, posting their life rather than living it. The effort that goes into creating an identity and getting it noticed or “followed” has replaced the effort of actually getting interested in the life that they are posting.

No matter what the experience is actually about, it becomes about you, the person who is living it.  A concert is not about the music, a restaurant not about the food, a sporting event not about the sport, a funeral not about the loss; it’s all about you, the doer, and what the event says about you.  Life experiences are not lived directly so much as they are used as opportunities for announcing what kind of person you are.  Life now is a product through which to promote your image, but (and here’s where it gets really strange) with little connection to whether that screen image accurately reflects the inside you.

The fact that posting where we are and what we’re doing is often more important than being where we are or doing what we’re doing, is one of the most disturbing ways that we are changing in the wake of technology and its offspring.  Our experience has meaning only in the way it says something about us–how it helps create our self-image.  As a result, we feel more separate and disconnected from our life; meaning feels harder to find.  The more we use life to create an identity, the more cut off from life we feel. Instead of being part of it, in the flow of life, we feel as if we have to keep generating new life material, more life stuff, which will announce, establish us, and ultimately, prove our existence.  In the meanwhile, the chasm between us and life grows wider and wider.

The next time you are inclined to post your story and all that goes with it, pause for a moment and experience where you are, feel what it feels like to live what you’re living, sensing what you’re sensing, without doing anything with it—without using life for your benefit, or for anything at all.  Just live, without the narrative.  While it may feel like this exercise could pose a threat to your identity, cause you to miss an opportunity to establish your value, in fact, the benefit it can offer to your true self, to that within you that longs to be part of and not separate from life, will far outweigh any loss incurred.  But don’t take my word for it, try it out for yourself.

Nancy Colier is an equestrian on the national horse show circuit and serves as a performance consultant to athletes and artists.

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the distinction between creating an image of who we are and becoming who we are? Can you share a personal story of a time you were able to disconnect from creating an image and lean into living life directly? What helps you avoid the trap of using life as a product to promote your image?

Add Your Reflection:

19 Previous Reflections:

  • link
    On Sep 4, 2021 Vinod wrote:
    "Just live, without the narrative."
    Powerful! Thank you for these words.

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Sep 2, 2021 Anand Chaturvedi wrote:
    Absolutely brilliant articulations of what I always felt about. You said it right. I remember while I was growing up we used to wait for bus, go a long, very long train journeys, and so on. What do you do when you wait ? Imagine, day dream, think. But cut to now, we do not think, we only see. See WA, FB, Insta and so on. Nothing wrong but thinking has gone down, dreaming even more so.

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Dec 14, 2020 Polly Hansen wrote:
    Life as a product to promote an image...hmm. Well, I promoted a photo of me at the Women's March in 2016 on my FB page for a couple of years, but that was entirely sincere. But I did do something absolutely horrible, secretly in my mind, when I invited two Black friends to my 60th birthday party hoping they would introduce themselves to one another and think I was hip and cool and non-racist. Like, oh look, she has other Black friends besides me. I mean, I invited them because they are my friends and I love them, but also thought of their Blackness as making me special. I know that's creepy, but there it is. So, not using social media in this way, but other people. I also recently broke my toe and was limping down the sidewalk with my two dogs when someone approached from the other direction. I moved to the street, knowing I was exaggerating my limp and powerless over the drama that had come over me, like, I'm going to make you feel guilty because I'm the one who's ... [View Full Comment] Life as a product to promote an image...hmm. Well, I promoted a photo of me at the Women's March in 2016 on my FB page for a couple of years, but that was entirely sincere. But I did do something absolutely horrible, secretly in my mind, when I invited two Black friends to my 60th birthday party hoping they would introduce themselves to one another and think I was hip and cool and non-racist. Like, oh look, she has other Black friends besides me. I mean, I invited them because they are my friends and I love them, but also thought of their Blackness as making me special. I know that's creepy, but there it is. So, not using social media in this way, but other people. I also recently broke my toe and was limping down the sidewalk with my two dogs when someone approached from the other direction. I moved to the street, knowing I was exaggerating my limp and powerless over the drama that had come over me, like, I'm going to make you feel guilty because I'm the one who's limping and I'm the one who has made the move to go out into the street to avoid you because of COVID, since you are obviously not going to. So I was creating the image of invalid and trying to instill guilt in this person. Again, creepy, but there you have it. I try to do better and smile now at people as I pass, because I've noticed I have become increasingly entitled as COVID rages on. Who do I think I am?!So, that's how I avoid future such traps - through self-awareness. And forgiveness.

    Not sure that's what you had in mind, but that's what came to mine.[Hide Full Comment]

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Dec 8, 2020 Lois Doig wrote:
    The soul is eternal. The body is the vehicle the soul uses to experience this lifetime.

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Dec 8, 2020 Steven Biondolillo wrote:
    In July 1981, long before the "personal tech device" revolution, I had an interesting interchange with a busload of tourists traveling to Egypt. (I'd just finished competing in an international athletic competition in Israel and had decided to do a side-trip.) When the first major landmark came into view, everyone-- literally everyone--on that bus grabbed a camera and began clicking. The fact that I had no camera and was content "merely" to look at the site--experience the moment--didn't go unnoticed. "Where's your camera?!" "Where's your camera?!" "Where's your camera?!" The chorus of disbelief was loud and insistent. "I don't have a camera, and don't own one," I remember first saying, then practically shouting. "What I do instead is PAY ATTENTION! Try it... PAY ATTENTION!" Well, some of my fellow passengers looked puzzled (even confused) by my imperative, and others semi-stunned. Regardl... [View Full Comment] In July 1981, long before the "personal tech device" revolution, I had an interesting interchange with a busload of tourists traveling to Egypt. (I'd just finished competing in an international athletic competition in Israel and had decided to do a side-trip.) When the first major landmark came into view, everyone-- literally everyone--on that bus grabbed a camera and began clicking. The fact that I had no camera and was content "merely" to look at the site--experience the moment--didn't go unnoticed. "Where's your camera?!" "Where's your camera?!" "Where's your camera?!" The chorus of disbelief was loud and insistent. "I don't have a camera, and don't own one," I remember first saying, then practically shouting. "What I do instead is PAY ATTENTION! Try it... PAY ATTENTION!" Well, some of my fellow passengers looked puzzled (even confused) by my imperative, and others semi-stunned. Regardless, no one... not a single person responded. For decades technology creep has been mediating human experience. (Super 8, anyone? Polaroid?) It's been a long slide down this slope. Today, sadly and alarmingly, we're so far gone that our culture's symbol of deadly self-absorption is no longer Narcissus. It is, instead, the garden-variety 13-year-old! [Hide Full Comment]

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Dec 8, 2020 Priyanka wrote:
    hot take/ perspective shift - writing (literature), poetry, music, dance, cooking, art, etc. was the Social Media platform of centuries past. If you couldn't hire the best composer for your court, were you even a great king? If you couldn't commission the best artist to paint you, were you worthy of being remembered? Perhaps social media and posting in the end is not only identity but self expression, and creativity the new lived experience in the digital age, but also somewhat creates a level platform of remembrance. How many people, and moments, were not captured in ages past because they didn't find a artist?

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Dec 8, 2020 Cletus Zuzarte wrote:
    Amazingly True, Often we project our lives instead of living it, enjoying the moment and actually being the present moment, now!

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Dec 8, 2020 Audrey Biloon wrote:
    So sad....this kind of insanity makes violence possible because the connection between reality snd s px of reality is lost. the only way we can stop this insanity is for parents to seethese forms of social media as bad as narcotics and to ban them. The problem is that those thirteen year olds will (too soon) become parents who won't be able to distinguish between themselves and reality and so they will be robotic role models for their children and so on. Something needs to be done NOW to expose this insanity and to educate that this kind of instant gratification will lead to the erosion of the "human" being.

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Dec 8, 2020 Hemant wrote:
    Reading this reminded me of working in the virtual currency/gaming space. While the surface read of it was "oh - how terrible that we try to create status through these virtual goods that we buy", the next-level-down experience of it was "oh wow - we've always created/signaled status through the stuff we buy - it's just that, when it's virtual, it's harder to pretend that there's some other reason for it (like that expensive jacket that might keep you warm climbing a glacier but is not needed in SF)" Similarly, while it's horrible to think about the social-media behavior she describes (and to recognize it in myself), it's also shining the light on something we already did long before social media - namely, creating and curating images of ourselves for others to see. Maybe there's a silver-edge to this cloud of social media, which is that those tendencies we have will become so exaggerated that we can't help but recognize and addre... [View Full Comment] Reading this reminded me of working in the virtual currency/gaming space. While the surface read of it was "oh - how terrible that we try to create status through these virtual goods that we buy", the next-level-down experience of it was "oh wow - we've always created/signaled status through the stuff we buy - it's just that, when it's virtual, it's harder to pretend that there's some other reason for it (like that expensive jacket that might keep you warm climbing a glacier but is not needed in SF)"
    Similarly, while it's horrible to think about the social-media behavior she describes (and to recognize it in myself), it's also shining the light on something we already did long before social media - namely, creating and curating images of ourselves for others to see. Maybe there's a silver-edge to this cloud of social media, which is that those tendencies we have will become so exaggerated that we can't help but recognize and address their roots.[Hide Full Comment]

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Dec 8, 2020 Kalyan wrote:
    Appearance has become more important than reality. In other words self image has more value than self. Image is nothing but a shadow. This articles points the madness and obsession of ourselves with the shadow and helps us to focus on the light (self) that casts the shadow.

    1 reply: Bec | Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Dec 5, 2020 David Doane wrote:
    There is a lot of creating an image occurring rather than becoming who we are. I agree with Nancy Collier that creating an image is a frequent phase, especially for young people, in figuring out our identity, and that social media fosters our creating an image instead of becoming who we are, which I think is a sad and serious problem. I'm old and am not a social media user, so I created an image all on my own and then gave it up after different amounts of time in different areas of my life until now when I am who I am. What helps me avoid the trap of using life as a product to promote an image includes often not giving a damn about my image, awareness that being who I am is satisfying like an image never is, awareness that maintaining an image is work and stressful, and awareness that an image is false and I want who I really am to be expressed and known. I also believe social media and especially the technology it is part of is here to stay, so the challenge is to use it to facili... [View Full Comment] There is a lot of creating an image occurring rather than becoming who we are. I agree with Nancy Collier that creating an image is a frequent phase, especially for young people, in figuring out our identity, and that social media fosters our creating an image instead of becoming who we are, which I think is a sad and serious problem. I'm old and am not a social media user, so I created an image all on my own and then gave it up after different amounts of time in different areas of my life until now when I am who I am. What helps me avoid the trap of using life as a product to promote an image includes often not giving a damn about my image, awareness that being who I am is satisfying like an image never is, awareness that maintaining an image is work and stressful, and awareness that an image is false and I want who I really am to be expressed and known. I also believe social media and especially the technology it is part of is here to stay, so the challenge is to use it to facilitate becoming who we are rather than it be a substitute for who we are.[Hide Full Comment]

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Dec 5, 2020 Sunil Mor wrote:
    We are essentially a spiritual being rather than a physical human being. Soul seperates us from the body.Once we understand this eternal truth we stop the said imagery but liven the real.This disconnect helps self realisation to lead a wholesome meaningful life.

    4 replies: David, Sunil, David, Sunil | Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Dec 4, 2020 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    The self-image that I create is only the reflection of the outside of me. It is like stagnant water rather than the flowing river. My life is dynamic. It is not static. It is becoming. It is a process and not a product. The image ofme is not my identity which is vibrating with energy and changing. The outside of me does not represent the inside of me. We all have potential to grow horizontally and vertically. The horizontal axisrepresents the expansion of my consciousness-my organic connection with nature and people. The vertical axis represents the depth of my relationship with nature and people. In order to experience my inner world, my true identity, I need to be with me fully without getting caught up in mentally narratingwhat happenedin the past or worryingabout what will happen in the future. It is flowing with the present. This happens when I do mindfulness meditation and practicing mindfulness in different contexts of my everyday life. This practice helps me grow on both horiz... [View Full Comment] The self-image that I create is only the reflection of the outside of me. It is like stagnant water rather than the flowing river. My life is dynamic. It is not static. It is becoming. It is a process and not a product. The image ofme is not my identity which is vibrating with energy and changing. The outside of me does not represent the inside of me.

    We all have potential to grow horizontally and vertically. The horizontal axisrepresents the expansion of my consciousness-my organic connection with nature and people. The vertical axis represents the depth of my relationship with nature and people. In order to experience my inner world, my true identity, I need to be with me fully without getting caught up in mentally narratingwhat happenedin the past or worryingabout what will happen in the future. It is flowing with the present. This happens when I do mindfulness meditation and practicing mindfulness in different contexts of my everyday life. This practice helps me grow on both horizontal and vertical axes. It happens when I am listening to me and to others with an open mind and an open heart. It happens when I listen to music or get absorbed in reading a book or contemplating.

    Non-judgemental awareness of my inner and outer world helps me avoid the trap of using life as a product to protect my image. Knowing that posting my image on a smart phone is not my true identity. Knowing that my shadow is an unrecognized and unaccepted part of darkness within me and working on it frees me from my self-created bondage. This is a life-long process. There is light within me that keeps me awake in the journey of my life. That light is my guide, my savior.
    Namaste!
    Jagdish P Dave'

    [Hide Full Comment]

    Post Your Reply

Search Awakin Readings

Or search by year, author, or category.

Subscribe to Weekly Email

Every week, we send out a digest with a reading and inspiring stories to our global community of 93,104 people. Subscribe below.

(unsubscribe)

Contact Us

If you'd like to suggest a thought or want to drop us a suggestion, drop us a note.