When I went back home to Korea this summer, I got a chance to see one of my favorite Korean talk shows live in the studio. The show took place on a pink sparkly set, with around 15 pretty girls dolled up in their flowery dresses on the right side and a famous host suited up in black on the other. The host, a handsome man sporting a perfect smile, led a witty discussion about traditional Korean food while the girls participated the discussion with cute remarks and giggles. I had never been inside a studio before, so my eyes were busy studying everything in the room: the dazzling celebrities, the lavish film equipment, and the accomplished staff moving busily to make sure that the show was going well.
But my excitement soon wore off when I realized that the recording was to go on for at least five more hours. As minutes passed by, I noticed how tired I—and everyone else in the room, including the celebrities—was becoming. But interestingly enough, the camera screens did not seem to capture the bags under the eyes of the host and the girls, even though these bags were definitely visible in real life. Was it the effect of the camera or the screen? I couldn’t tell. When it was finally time for a break, the host’s bright smile faded as he quickly escaped the room to smoke. The girls, who were holding their perfect posture for too long, began to massage each other to save themselves from backaches and shoulder cramps. As they stretched in pain, I noticed the tags dangling from the back of their fancy dresses, which were to be returned to the clothing companies when the show ended. After a few more minutes, the show continued, and everyone on the stage was smiling again.
That’s when I realized something important: This was just a show. And these people in the show were real, just like we, who watch them on TV, are also real. The only difference was that the people on the screen were flat. Seeing how much they could be literally and figuratively made one-dimensional by the television, I soon lost interest and left the room, a bit disgusted.
Summer ended quickly, and I was soon back at school for my second year at the University. I did not realize that the show I saw would have any relevance to my college life until I decided to go out to a party. There, I had a conversation with a random girl I had just met. Actually, I had known her before I met her because I saw her all the time: she was often on top of my Facebook newsfeed, tagged in every other picture of my college acquaintances. Because I felt so awkward and inferior next to her, social goddess that she was, I was pressured to think of different ways to keep up a nice conversation with her. Eventually, when I ran out of clever questions and topics, I asked how her college life was going so far. Contrary to what I expected, she answered very solemnly, “To be honest, pretty horrible.” She explained that her life has been very lonely even when she is surrounded by many people, that she has not a single true friend even in the midst of having so many.
And out of some weird coincidence, I met two other people on the same week who seemed to share a similar story as the girl. All of these kids were looking for one true friend despite their popularity.
What could this mean? These were all people often brought up in conversation, admired and idolized with remarks such as, “Oh, he’s so cool,” and “I want to be like her.” I surely have participated in this admiration before. These were people who get one hundred “likes” on Facebook the minute after they post something, making my own seldom-liked statuses seem a bit miserable.
The show I saw this summer goes on even outside studio sets and TV screens; even at Wesleyan, the television effect haunts and pressures all of us to put on a show. We’re not all celebrities, but the internet pressures us to have a screen persona that is similarly flat. We Instagram every piece food we consume, Snapchat pictures of every weekend in our sexy suits and dresses, and tweet every moment of our “fun” college lives as if to prove to the world that we do have friends and are having fun.
I am not saying that we need to stop caring about how we look to others and cut ourselves from all social media; as much as it is great to share joy off- and online, this fad of sharing and bolstering a public persona seems to have reached a point of obsession. Can we please enjoy a funny or special moment without calculating how many upvotes sharing said moment would get on Yik Yak?
In addition, the pressure to update ourselves constantly to the rest of the world can shift our focus from developing deep connections to developing wide and shallow ones instead. As a result, so many of us want someone to talk to at 1:00 a.m. on a random Thursday about something (that is, something too unimpressive to be posted online), scroll through our phone contacts, and end up turning the screen off with a sigh. And so many of us have a plethora of people who walk by us as we wait in the Usdan pasta line and yell, “Hey, how are you doing? I miss you so much. Let’s get dinner sometime—I’ll text you!” but we get no message, especially on the days we really need it.
As much as it is exciting to be liked by thousands of people who watch you as if you are a T.V. celebrity, at the end of the day, what we really need is a single person who likes our raw, unflattened selves. We need one person who sees us in all of our dimensions, who sees everything that we do not share with our thousands of online admirers. Thankfully, we have the choice to turn off the invisible cameras recording us nonstop anytime. Why don’t we save ourselves some backaches and fake smiles and take a break from our 24-hour show?
Kwon is a member of the class of 2017.