A friend and I had a discussion recently about why we and other “old millennials” struggle with the state of social media today.

We talked about his slightly younger girlfriend and her willingness to share her workouts on SnapChat. A rather benign activity as far as social media goes, he went on to sarcastically imply that her Snaps were effective lies, or at best, mischaracterizations of her true dedication to physical fitness. (He knows she only works out twice a week, on a good week).

But in that moment I realized, being slightly younger than us, my friend’s girlfriend did not equate sharing her workouts with implying she is some kind of workout queen dedicated to the daily pursuit of physical fitness. She was simply sharing what she was doing at that moment. Nothing more, nothing less.

Grandpa No. 1 and Grandpa No. 2, however, view those exact same social media posts as the intention of presenting a consistent, authentic and true narrative about who she is and what she’s about.

Please excuse the MySpace generation

There is a segment of the millennial population who has been born having always had access to the social media experience. It’s always been accessible on their phone, through a tablet or — God forbid — on a laptop computer.

But I am from the MySpace generation.

MySpace was the first iteration of what social media is today, allowing you to create a space that was comprehensively representative of who you are.

My profile was high-school-Ben-Carter in the truest sense; the color palette was blue, black and white. I had a picture of my favorite football player, Deion Sanders, wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey and the music video for “You Got It Bad” by Usher playing on a loop.

These things represented who I was and what I cared about most.  

MySpace was also something you only had access to at home or while on a school computer. MySpace (and early Facebook) for a time were tertiary considerations — something you only thought about after the fact. If you had a good time at a party and had the presence of mind to take photos, you might try to upload them to your MySpace or Facebook page. Of course, this was only possible if you could figure out hot to transfer the images from your prehistoric flip phone to your computer. Sometimes it just wasn’t worth the energy and effort.

By natural selection, images posted to MySpace and Facebook became true, genuine moments in time you wanted to share. Photos were unedited, unfiltered representations of who you and your friends were.

Manufacturing the moment

We’ve now moved ahead into a world wherein it’s common knowledge that “if you did not share it, it did not happen.” A culture made possible by the totally mobile interfaces of Instagram, SnapChat and Facebook mobile, we live in a world where, when you get married, your wife changes her last name on Facebook, but has never bothered to go to the social security office to notify the government of her name change. I’ve been married for over a year and my wife is still known officially by her maiden name… Do you think it technically qualifies as a “maiden name” if you never change it? But I digress.

By making social media entirely mobile and making online sharing a part of our everyday experience, we’ve also elevated the need for these shares to be funnier, sexier or more beautiful. For every photo taken we have to consider how many likes it will get or how many new followers it will net.

Every wedding party wants to pose in windows, wearing solid colors, staring blankly into the camera to get close to the “Solange look.“ Every travel photo must have the most grandiose backdrop possible. Every picture we take with our significant other has to illicit thoughts of Disney movie romance, even if we just got through arguing about how he continues to leave his dirty socks and underwear in the middle of the bedroom floor.

My reaction to images like these is of feeling they are contrived, overdone and dare I say, desperate for attention.

There-in lies the difficulty I have with social media of today. Everything feels staged, gratuitous and likely a misrepresentation or oversimplification of who a person is.

There is so much more truth in the days of my Usher-backed MySpace page. It was clear. It was pure. It was me. Or maybe I’m just a Grandpa… A millennial Grandpa.

Ben Carter is the Host of Manage Your Damn Money, Creative Director at MYDM Creative and author of Fictitious Financial Fairytale: A Completely Untrue Story About Money, Friends and Moscow Mules.

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