As a man in his mid-thirties, playlists are the modern version of the mixtape. To sit by a radio, with a cassette deck held on both record and play, with a quick finger to let go of the pause button was a way of life. When the tape was crammed to capacity, it was time to create a new 60-to-90-minute musical journey. If or whenever I was in the mood, I could go back to an older piece of Maxell plastic with a clever and unique title and relive a brief time period.
By default, the song at the top of your playlists are the ones we listen to the most. Every three months, I curate a new collection of songs I come across-old and new-out of convenience. There is still a time limit; however, it is based on 120-day timeframe because space on an internet-based platform is infinite. As time progresses, the sequence of songs gives me a similar perspective of events and circumstances, with a catchy title like my cassettes did 20 years ago. This is how “Real Life” by Cyn Santana became a happy accident.
In the summer of 2019, I came across “Real Life” at the beginning of a new playlist cycle. It was a “I’m curious how this sounds, and I’ll get around to it later” kind of song. At first, “Real Life” and the first few songs were forgotten. At the top of a new playlist season, there aren’t enough songs to make the new one an enjoyable experience. By late-June, I listened to “Real Life” a lot because as soon as I got in my car to drive, I pressed play on Spotify and went wherever I had to go. By sheer repetition, a song by Cyn Santana became a top listen.
Whenever “Real Life” plays, I think about social media. This thing my peers and I took pictures on cameras, paid a store to develop rolls of film, took home from said store, scanned on a separate machine, then uploaded, to share with our friends and likeminded individuals, has evolved into a lifestyle. Come to think of it, the more things have changed, the more they have stayed the same: the amount of time a now-archaic process to post is similar today. Even though we create and upload our photos from the same device, we now have to color-edit, come up with the perfect caption, and wait for the right time of day to post for optimal followers to see.
Most of us upload a highlight reel of our lives onto the internet; you may be an outlier if you do not. In our minds and hearts, we know it is all fake. Yet we get caught up in the proverbial tip of someone else’s iceberg.
Whenever a friend, family member, or even myself gets too affected by what someone has said, done, or projected a false image of themselves, I remind them “it’s just a video game where we are all playing ourselves.” How we observe and interpret others’ content has little to do with whomever posted; it says more about us than them. We see what we think we lack in whatever others [pre]tend to have. Even when we know the stimuli are not real, our feelings are, and it is something we must take with seriousness.
I have one tried and true trick to ground myself and remember almost all I see on an interactive platform isn’t real: “Eight out of ten photos, videos, memes, tweets, and status updates were posted while said person was taking a shit.” It turns a mountain of emotions into a manageable molehill with a laugh. Even if the percentage is off, I know we have all done so on numerous occasions. It is the great equalizer.
Much of my personal content revolves around parenthood. The reason I do so has very little to do with how I’ve stumbled into this as part of my career. Most of my life revolves around being someone’s father and with some skills I have acquired, I share a plurality of what I see from this perspective. I have a love-hate relationship with this.
I became a father at 25 years old and lived most of my life sans children. If my parents and grandparents were not artists, there would be significantly less captured memories of my life. It wasn’t until I became someone’s father the construct of contextualized, conversational content creation only for the internet existed.
Despite how much my world revolves around fatherhood, it isn’t all of who I am. One of the last things I ever talk about is being a father or my child in typical, day-to-day conversation with friends, colleagues, peers, or on dates. Most of these posts in this whole exercise have little to do with it as well.
Because of a perceived vested interest in how I raise my daughter as a single black father, a plurality of my creations, musings, interests and acquired talent goes unseen. People-generated computer algorithms have determined pictures of my kid are what people have decided they like and want to see from me. It feels as if said algorithms put me in a box.
Something I can-and have-spent hours, days, weeks, and even years can and will only generate a little traction. This can and will influence anyone’s self-worth. The intelligent woman can become reduced to her looks because once, she enjoyed herself at the beach with her girls and it received a lot of likes. An adult, who sought refuge in rigorous training in classical music as an escape from their abusive home, uploaded a video of them goofing around-just once-on the keys became a sensation; now no one wants to take their craft seriously…and us all in a form or fashion have been here.
I feel as if the reason this gets to me is because my experience in parenthood is rooted in my trauma of loss. There have been times in which I have gotten mad at the world because and wanted to say “What the fuck…there is WAY MORE TO WHO I AM AS A PERSON THAN THE SHIT I’VE BEEN THROUGH.”
Shortly after my internal rant, I return to baseline with a reminder. God dealt me my unique hand for a reason. Whenever I want to completely abandon all of this, I get little reminders the things I have said and done have a lot of significance to others. When I posted a fifteen second post my 5am walk to work inspired someone to get a little more active—this one person could give a shit about how “I’m dope in real life;” this one thing helped them change an aspect of theirs. The same way I feel inspired by someone else’s story and experience through social media, someone does about what I’ve done, as well.