By Jonathan Bremer
As perfectionists and connoisseurs of that which is aesthetically pleasing, we like to present ourselves in the most appealing ways possible. As part of a society that likes to document each and every area of our lives, we often look for the best ways to make our lives attractive to others on social media. This may be through re-shooting photos until we get the perfect angle, or editing out the imperfections until it becomes acceptable to share with the world, or carefully analyzing our captions to make sure they provoke the right reactions and inspire the right amount of likes.
As media applications like VSCO and Instagram increase functionalities and editing capacities, we have been enabled with tools that allow us to synthetically enhance our reality. These enhancements, and specifically filters, allow users to alter their online appearance to make themselves, their possessions, or their reality look more appealing to others. We have become so self-absorbed and caught up in the need for approval or praise, that we have begun to manipulate our reality until it lines up with an “ideal” reality that makes us passable when measured against the unrealistic aesthetic standards society has set for us. Taking this into account, we conclude that in order to meet these artificial standards, we must filter our realities.
When we think about filters, Instagram and Snapchat are the first apps that come to mind. According to Steffen Patterson, co-developer and software designer for Relatable, an influencer marketing company, over 18% of all Instagram photos are altered by a filter – and the majority of those pictures are from self-proclaimed “photographers.” That says a lot about the way we think about our lives and the world around us.
It seems like filters are just one more way to try and aesthetically one-up our friends, or to give a false impression of the state of our lives and the quality of our experiences. Filters in this regard are not only artificial representations, but also just downright deceptive. Whatever our intentions, they still mislead and point toward a reality that does not actually exist. These edited realities and experiences ultimately can’t take away the feeling that we still can’t reach those experiences we have fashioned with a filter. Companies often use filters for business purposes or marketing as well, and these are no less deceptive. In fact, they can completely change how a product looks to the point where the one you actually receive is unrecognizable. Not only is this a prominent practice, but it is also a shameful and unethical one.
There are times and places for filters. But rather than using them to mask or edit our realities to be more attractive, more jealousy-provoking, why not just live our lives as if our actions, words and experiences serve as filters for us? Our imperfections are like unique filters that no one else possesses – and they make us one of a kind. Why do we have to manipulate and deceive when we have the power to live free from the chains and emptiness of filtered realities? As Christians, media consumers, and content creators, it is important for us to step out from behind the filter and show the world who we are. It’s how we stand out. It’s how we embrace ourselves – and embracing our uniqueness is what allows us to initiate change and make a difference in the world.