Identity Through the Looking-Glass

When I received the final project for “What You See Is What You Get,” I knew right away that I wanted to create a film. I had never before made a documentary, and being deeply interested in the topic of social media, I decided to make a film about the relationship between identity and social networking. I thought the “talking head” style of documentary-making would be the best way to make this film, because it allows for many opinions on the subject and gives the interviewees a chance to speak to the audience directly. One of my main goals in this film was to highlight the excessive, often superficial use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and similar sites, despite how useful they can be.

Although we made a rule against disclaimers in class, I feel that it is appropriate to use one now: I really enjoy social networking and think it can be beneficial in terms of staying in touch with friends and sharing good memories. However, it is constantly abused and overused by millions, and I believe it’s an issue that the public needs to acknowledge more.

I, for one, spend way too much time on social media. Whether I am waiting for class to start, watching a movie, or even doing homework, I find that I am constantly on my phone or computer checking my profiles, viewing my notifications, and uploading pictures. Why is it that I, and so many others, have this obsession with our online image? It is perhaps our society that encourages it, for not being active on at least one social networking site is considered abnormal. There is a yearning for acceptance and popularity on these websites, and I believe that people alter who they are online as a result. On Instagram, for example, filters are available to make pictures look “better.” Twitter is a contest over who can be the cleverest or the funniest. Facebook has lost some of its footing to other sites, but the amount of likes you get on a profile picture seems to determine how popular you are and how good you look in the photo.

Making this project was difficult for me at first because of my lack of experience. As I said before, I had never made a documentary, so I didn’t know what the preproduction process entailed, nor did I know how to gather solid interviews or B-Roll. Therefore I decided to jump right in and began to interview people who I knew would have something to say on the issue of social media and identity. The perspectives were somewhat limited, because the main group of people available to be interviewed was comprised of undergraduate students. However, this turned out to be beneficial to the project because my main audience is college students. This makes the interviewees relatable and the message hits closer to home. After collecting several interviews, I started to view each clip one by one, and I soon realized that there were pieces of interviews that went really well together. This is how I eventually decided the order in which the interviews were shown. Making a documentary is in some ways very similar to writing an essay. It must have structure, although not necessarily linear, and it must relay and important message to its audience, much like the thesis does in a paper. In terms of structure, I feel like I made a sandwich of sorts, with the questions and music on both ends of the documentary, some B-Roll of social media sites incorporated into Sarah’s interviews on either end, and several other interviews throughout. The music was especially important because I wanted to find something that fit with the theme of film, not just something that worked with the sound of the interviews. I ultimately decided on Mirando, by Ratatat, because it reminds me of technology. It sounds almost like an old video game, and in addition to going with the theme, it worked well in the background of the interviews.

I wanted the opening to be shocking—to grab the audience’s attention. The statistic I used about average social media use (22.4 hours per week) appalled me. “Do I really spend that much time on social media?” I thought. Then I realized that yes, I probably do. I don’t sit in front of a screen for hours scrolling through posts upon posts upon posts, but my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are constantly up. In fact, I had my Facebook up while writing this paper until a few minutes ago when I realized how ironic and hypocritical it was of me. 22.4 hours. That is disgusting. If I spend that much time on social media consistently for 50 years, I will have wasted 58,240 hours, or 2,426 days, or 6.65 years. That is more time than the average person spends in college and graduate school combined. So why do we do it? Social media gives us a chance to be someone else entirely. We can change our appearance, our mannerisms, and our thoughts with a click of a button. People strive for others’ approval, and on social media sites they can conform, fit the mold, and post what they think others want to see.

Social media cannot, and does not, change a person’s true identity. However, it can distort its perception. Online, people are able to manipulate identity and to alter how they appear to other people. They suddenly become more confident in what they share, because they are behind a screen. Likes and followers determine social status. Profile pictures, cover photos, and albums become collections of only the most perfect representations of oneself. Therefore social networking generates an artificial reality and a conformist mentality. Identity becomes garbled and turns into an intense desire for acceptance. I am not condemning social media; it has many great uses, such as sharing moments with friends and staying in touch with loved ones who live far away. However, it is overused and misused, causing the affect on identity that we see in so many people today.

 Works Cited

MarketingCharts staff. “Social Networking Eats Up 3+ Hours Per Day for the Average

American User.” Marketing Charts. Watershed Publishing, 9 Jan. 2013. Web. 8 Dec. 2013


























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