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Young Blood

Digital realism

I used to spend 60 percent of my day curating, captioning and uploading the perfect Instagram post, or thinking about doing the three. I don’t know when or how it started, but social media had subliminally pressured me to present my life through a digital-magazine-worthy editorial for pure vanity, such that the amount of work that went into one little square photo had become insanely exhausting. The whole process of envisioning the perfect shot, setting up for the photo, getting the ideal pose, finding the right filter, writing a brilliant caption, and making sure that the shot is consistent with the entire vibe of my feed had outweighed the time I actually spent enjoying what I was trying to capture. In anything and everything that I did, I secretly asked myself: Is this Instagrammable? Will this make me look cool and fancy? How many “likes” would this photo gain?

Going to an art exhibit was no longer about connecting with a deeper part of me, but an excellent chance to take pictures of eye-catching pieces of art, and check how it could make my social media more awesome. Instead of really paying attention to the art and its message, which is what I’m really into as a part-time art journalist, I was distracted.

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Enjoying a Sunday brunch with my family was no longer about catching up with their lives, but another opportunity to order the most Instagrammable plate, and to snap the best aerial table shot that would tell people how lavish my lifestyle is. I was always after the best angle. I was always on the hunt for the newest craze. I had to be the first one to know and to share it. It felt like there was an unspoken competition between me and other “grammers.” This absurdity reached its peak when I dropped my phone into my ramen bowl at Little Tokyo. The waiter gave me a bowl of uncooked rice to dry up my phone. It was sick. I was sick.

The turning point—my metanoia, if you will—was realizing how sh*tty I had become to the love of my life, my daughter Sophia. I can’t count the times she went ballistic because I was making her do multiple poses just to create the perfect Instagrammable moment, trying to achieve a “candid” effect. I once made her so cranky she cried because I was forcing her to smile under the heat of the sun even though she was being scorched. The natural lighting was good; I had to take a shot. My followers would love it. Clearly, my reasoning was flawed. It was horrible. I was horrible.

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Not all my photos underwent this tedious process, however. I have authentic moments in the reel as well, but I don’t know which one anymore. I had lost my sense of what’s real and not. My mind was in a complete fog. I could no longer separate who I am from my digital persona. And frankly, I didn’t care.

Then one day, I asked Sophia to draw a portrait of me holding the thing that matters to me most. I wanted a cartoon I could post on Instagram. I thought she would draw me and her, but she sketched me and my phone. I was so furious that my anger precipitated into tears. I didn’t share it. She cried and said that the only time I really spoke to her was story time. I was always on my phone. This was why she never wanted to miss story time before going to sleep. Sometimes, she didn’t even care about the story. I broke down.

I was living inside my phone. It steered my life and empowered my choices. I had traded experiencing life with just seeing them through the lens of my phone. It was pretentious. It was fake. I felt empty.

I realized that it had become painful for the people who matter most to me, and I was not aware of it for a long period of time. I used to take photos to remember, to create memories, but suddenly, I had acquired this deep need to take photos based on how good they would look on my account, on how cool it would make me look in the virtual world. I was obsessed. I had a problem. I was a social media addict.

After this realization, I deleted my Instagram account. Like all junkies, I regretted it at first. I wanted to undo what I had done. To think that I had so many followers! I asked my hacker friends to revive my account for me, but they told me that they didn’t want to be caught. Instagram is a huge company, and they didn’t want to be jailed for hacking it. Looking back, I just laugh at how low I had become. I was deranged. Since I couldn’t do anything about it, I went back to the reason I let go of it in the first place: my daughter.

I planned adventures with Sophia inside the house, and outside. We took long trips to the beach, museums, parks, playgrounds and restaurants, and I totally paid attention. I took my time, and I started to hear everything that Sophia says and doesn’t. I became present, and I regained the part of me that I almost lost.

Today, I’m back on Instagram, but I’m more responsible in my use of it. I’ve realized the power of social media to influence and shape how people see the world and experience life. So now I write about my struggle in becoming a better mom to Sophia, and talk about my advocacy for open-source learning. I hope people learn something from what I share, whether they like my post or not. It really doesn’t matter.

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My social media is now filled with insight and long musings; it almost feels like a blog. People have been telling me that they don’t usually read long posts, but they read mine because it’s so real, and easily relatable. It’s like they can really hear me talking. I’m so happy that I’m in control of everything now, instead of the other way around.

Czyka Tumaliuan, 28, works regularly at the Knowledge Channel Foundation Inc. and at Art Plus magazine on the side.

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