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Book Review: In Real Life: Love, Lies & Identity in the Digital Age by Nev Schulman

Hi beauties! Today I am back with another book review 🙂 Most of you would have heard about the documentary Catfish which became really successful a few years ago (if you haven’t watched it, please do because it’s great!) and came to coin the term ‘catfish’ to mean, someone who deceives another person/s online by lying about their identity. The documentary followed Nev’s online romantic relationship with a girl named Megan and ended with Nev turning up in Michigan where Megan supposedly lived, only to find out that ‘Megan’ was created by a married, middle-aged woman named Angela. After the success of the documentary, Nev started receiving emails from people all across the world who could relate to his story because either they had been deceived by a catfish online or they were worried that the person that they were currently in an online relationship with, was indeed lying to them and also a catfish. Online relationships are a phenomena of our generation and time, so with all the people looking for help and guidance, Nev decided to create a tv show, helping regular ‘Joes’ investigate who they were really in an online relationship with (and hence the MTV tv show came about, titled Catfish: the TV Show).


Snacks – check! A good book – check! 

Nev both in his documentary and tv shows, comes across as the ultimate good guy – empathetic, insightful and intelligent. I think through his book he wanted his audience to understand that who is today, is not who he was 10 or even 2 years ago, and that it was only through hard work that he could start to change from a self-described a-hole, into ‘the all round good guy’. I like that throughout the book he isn’t self-righteous about the changes he has made (and still needs to make) but rather presents his story in a really honest light. The parts in the book that detail his personal story (or journey) are my favourite, because it’s real and honest. The book is also a short guide on how not to present yourself online and includes someone online dating ‘rules’ or tips. These sections of the book weren’t my favourite, only because I don’t date online and the warnings he gives people about what not to post online, I’ve already figured out thankfully (e.g. don’t send compromising or naked photos of yourself to someone online or via sms, even if they are your bf or gf), though I can see that for younger kids especially, this may not be so obvious (especially with the rise of snapchat – people can still capture images before they are deleted kids!). I did also really appreciate Nev’s insights into why people invest soooo much time online creating the perfect online representation of themselves (even when it’s often tweaked to excess or totally made up) and why people seek out online relationships instead of relationships in the real world. Here are a few of my favourites quotes from the book –

In other words, catfishing has become so ingrained in modern life that many people do it unconciously, in small but significant ways.

The quote above really struck a cord with me because we have to realise that everything that is posted online is edited – people choose what to post up online, it is not a real reflection of the world or our lives. It’s either unrealistic and made up or only a snapshot of a given situation or person. One look at Facebook demonstrates this perfectly – who hasn’t altered a profile picture or posted up only flattering photos of themselves? Here is also a good quote on why some people prefer to invest time in online relationships, rather than face to face relationships, even when they have a big suspicion that the relationship online is based on lies.

This is key; it reveals how little it takes for people to feel valued these days. We are so desperate for external validation that we’ll even accept it from someone who may be lying to us. We want people to tell us that we are worthy and our connections online are about confirming what we already want to believe about ourselves.

The book time and time again, pushes the fact that who we want to be, cannot be merely created online – if anything, the time we spend online takes away from what we could be doing to improve ourselves and better our lives. Nev isn’t naive in thinking that we will all switch off our apps and social media accounts, but he highlights the idea that we usually don’t use these tools in the right way anymore (to stay in touch with family, friends who live far away) and instead, they take time away from our real lives, friendships and erode our privacy (why do we let people who we don’t even like or who we don’t even know, observe our life?). I liked that he pointed out that we often feel ‘connected’ and in touch with the world when we take part in online discussions, but let’s be honest, unless you are using these tools to either create something or for chatting with people who we have shared experiences with etc, these ‘contributions’ often don’t lead to anywhere. Occasionally, we do start new friendships online which are fruitful and start something positive, but unless we move these friendships into the real world and as long as these new friendships are numbered, they won’t be distracting us from what’s actually happening outside of our windows.

Here’s how friendship works: There’s a finite amount of connection that any one person can have with the world around them. You get to choose how to distribute that time and energy. It’s like your bank account of friendship. If you have a gf or bf, you’ll give a certain value of time and energy there. And then you have your family and your best friends, who take up more value. At that point, your account is pretty depleted. There’s no “failure” online, in the real world sense – but there’s no acheivment either. The things that seem like “success” online – gaining more friends; having people “like” your pictures, repost your comments, read your Twitter feed – are, for the most part, ephemeral. These social media achievements are merely a kind of popularity contest. And being popular online doesn’t get us any closer to the things we want in real life (I know there are exceptions – but they are not the norm).

When it comes to online relationships (and sometimes even ‘real life’ relationships), we think that as long as we love someone and they love us back, everything will be fine and it will save us from our daily troubles and dissatisfaction, making us feel fulfilled. But that’s not how it works.

You can’t rely on someone else to feel good about yourself. If you judge your worth based on the person you are dating or the people you are friends with, you will never be happy. Love isn’t the answer either. Growing up, we’re led to believe that love is a fairy tale. love solves everything: Find it, and you’re set for life. We believe in love at first sight and that once you meet your perfectly fitting ‘soul mate’ the rest is easy. There’s no need to work on yourself, because the person you’ve found will love you unconditionally. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, relationships require constant care and maintenance. And you as an individual have to challenge yourself to grow and improve so you can bring that knowledge to your relationship.

A friend of mine recently started a psychological blog (check it out here) and in her first post, she tackles the concept of love. It turns out that many studies and philosophical debates, reiterate that love makes us happy when the other person challenges us to grow and become better. Love needs to stimulate us cognitively and physically. At the same time, we need to see that our partner is also willing to put in the hard work it takes to make a relationship succeed. I really do think that Nev is spot on with this line of thinking.

The problem we get into when our relationship is 90% online (if not more), is that we don’t see the other person in everyday situations. After all, you can ‘log off’ whenever you want to. It’s a censored reality. This doesn’t mean that online relationships can’t work, but the majority of online relationships end because people can’t transition them into ‘real life’ relationships. Long distance relationships are different albeit also really difficult, because these relationships begin with that physical connection (which is also essential to a relationship – it isn’t the only important factor of course) and is built on shared experiences also (before one person needs to move away from the other). Online relationships unfortunately don’t have this foundation, so you need to be realistic when it comes to deciding whether or not it will lead you to a dead end. I really enjoyed this book and all the lessons contained within it 🙂 It’s quite an easy read, despite presenting lots of meaningful ideas. I would highly recommend the book especially for teenagers or young adults who put a lot of time (and probably to much time) in creating their ‘perfect online profiles’. While not every section of the book was entirely relevant to myself, I enjoyed the parts where Nev critically assessed his online relationships and journey to becoming a better person.

The biggest lesson I will take away from the book is to switch off my phone more often and limit my time on Facebook/Instagram. Instead of trying to document every event that happens in your life, go out and enjoy those moments without being tied down to your phone 🙂

I bought my copy of the book from the Nile (free postage is offered for all orders).

Have you see the documentary Catfish or the tv show? Do you spend to much time online? 😉

Until next time beauties,

Beauty Bee~

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