A few nights ago I met my friends at the old Leith Theatre to soak up a bit of the Hidden Door festival. First one there, I took myself around the flaky corridors where visual art blended into disused building. Literally in some parts. In truth, I found the basement and some of the rooms unnerving. It wasn’t like Hidden Door last year where it was colourful, exciting and interactive. This year it was dark, grim and perplexing.
I couldn’t stay inside anymore; I didn’t like it. Instead I found a bench outside the public library where I could breathe a little in the bright light. I looked down at the palm of my hand and scrolled through Facebook, Jeremy Corbyn’s face appearing like everybody’s favourite dish on a sushi-go-round. Scattered in between was the odd selfie or over-exposed holiday snap, my thumb lightly gliding over the screen.
I glanced up to brush the hair out of my face and nearly missed my friend heading through the theatre gates. Running to catch up with her, I discarded my phone in my pocket as we straight away began devouring the food truck menus. But still, I could see #foodporn in my mind, fingers itching to put my shredded beef bun out there for everyone to see.
Fast-forward half an hour, and we were standing in the massive theatre. It was dark and I was bored, so I wandered over to the other side of the balcony alone to look at a giant portrait. I knew the name; the guy who ran this festival painted it. I think.
Over there, on the other side of the hall, I saw what my friends didn’t. Behind them, was a white rabbit carrying a sign as she walked along the balcony. No, not a white rabbit – a lady dressed in white. The sign said ‘FOLLOW ME’, but nobody was. Immediately I walked towards her, and my friends clicked. We formed a line behind this strange character and began meandering around the seats. It didn’t take long for more people to leap up and join in (apologies to the performers on the stage…) as we abandoned that, well, abandoned theatre.
The lady stopped abruptly outside a door and informed us that we were now in a queue – for her show coincidentally. I smiled. That was nicely done. The company, she informed us, was called Ego et Al, and I had no idea that the next hour was going to be so sadly relevant and eye-opening.
Turn your phones off, was the first instruction, and take a seat. I gladly flicked the little moon symbol on my phone and buried it in my bag. I love any excuse to ignore it. Where we were seated turned out to be important, because we were in teams. Each team had a different identity, each was a different person if you like. But I’m not going to say much more about what went on in that room, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. I do wonder if Ego et Al realise the irony of their entire performance – that it all started with a follow. I bet they did.
What I can say is that we left the room feeling pretty moved. I knew my friends used their phones as much as me, I follow them don’t I? While the message was about social media, it was specifically about our obsession with our ‘other’ selves, and our paranoia about how we are perceived online. We can be anyone we like, delete ourselves, and become someone else. We can be in multiple places at once. We can sculpt and mould the way that everyone (who cares) sees us. But the sad truth is that we are our biggest audience and our own worst critic. I know that I find fault in 95% of the photos that exist of me. I’m the queen of untagging myself. Take a look at my newest profile picture on Facebook and you’ll see that it has zero likes. That’s no accident, I made it that way. I didn’t want my face to show up on everyone’s feeds; I didn’t want to be perceived as someone who liked that picture of herself enough to make it her new profile picture. It was a toxic thing to do to myself.
Yet I still find safety in my phone – the mirror that is always carried around with us, a camera with endless filters to show us in our ‘best’ light, and dozens of social media apps twinkling at us to upload this or live stream that. Most importantly, it’s a place where all the evidence of our existence is stored…what would happen if all that was lost? Would we have even existed at all?
I can barely remember the taste of my shredded beef bun for fumbling about with Instagram in between bites.
But the version of me online absolutely loved it.
The Ego et Al performance was a fresh take on a subject we all know about and it inspired me. So maybe, just maybe, if I change my profile picture again, I’ll let you like it. Or maybe I wont, because let’s be honest; it’s that number beside the little blue thumb that’s really messing us all up isn’t it?
Ego et Al is performed by Roanna Davidson and directed by Ali-Anderson-Dyer.