Updated: Aug 30, 2021
Just in case you did not already know or understand this, social media doesn't really portray real life but the self that we want to put out there. Social media is a bit of a fantasy. It is not us as much us as it is the version of us we allow people to see, for better or worse.
This post comes about from a conversation with a good friend on a decent but far from great day of catching. It was still a great day of fishing because we got to hang out and do it on the Lower Wisconsin River, one of my favorite places anywhere.
I totally understand the disdain and animosity that many have for social media. I share some of it. I have taken a month-long social media break and plan to again this fall as a way to sort of reset. And I have to say it felt pretty damn good to not read a bunch of dumb shit on Facebook. The constant trolling, fighting, and general dipshittery is depressing. Let's just say, not everyone is putting their best foot forward online. Of course many do their dipshittery with fake and anonymous accounts. Others do it in ways that they would never do in person because the internet allows for that without repercussions. In a nutshell, that is much of social media. It not real nor is it honest. People are often putting their best - or their worst - foot forward.
Could you imagine if we were honest on social media?
Anglers would post images of our average days and our tough days. There would be "grip and grins" with average fish - not just the big ones. We would post our lazy asses sitting on the couch rather than going fishing. We would post about the friend that out fished us - and maybe about the friend that can't cast worth a shit. There would be photos of fly lines that are such a tangled mess that you have no idea how the hell that ever happened. Or you might 'show off' that leader with three or four 'wind' knots in it. Anglers would be posting the real story about the reason that they lost a fish. And this fish would not be "the one that got away", in fact that fish was maybe a bit better than average fish. And the reason that they lost it was because they were too lazy to replace their frayed and/or 'wind' knotted tippet and not that it was such a hard fighting fish that "there was nothing I could do, bro". And we would see one hell of a lot more photos of anglers catching stream-side vegetation - or themselves.
Just a couple of weeks ago, a friend told a story of a guide friend that is assumed to have (known to have?) changed shirts to take more photos with the same trophy fish. It is not the first time that I have heard a story like that. While I find it rather repulsive, I sort of "get it" too. Most anglers looking for a guide are going to be drawn to the guide showing what great fish they can catch. Is it honest? Hell no but we aren't looking for honest. Social media sells a fantasy and we buy it - though we probably should know better.
Honest, of course, is not what social media is nor was designed to be. It is, in a best case, our best selves. (Almost) nobody is posting about their marital infidelity - yet it is pretty common. Or their financial problems. Or that they are bored as can be in their lives or that they are struggling with mental health. Kids are rarely crying or begging on Instagram. But we know all these things are pretty common. In fact - for fishing or life in general - we probably do not want social media to be all that honest. In the worst case, social media uses our anger, vanity, competitiveness, fears, and all those other feelings to divide us - and too often, we fall for it.
It's all Fantasy
First and foremost, I think it critical that we understand that it is a fantasy. Fishing on social media is like fishing Lake Wobegon where all the fish are large and the anglers better than average. Nearly every angler is putting their best fish forward. It is a fantasy but it can be a fun and entertaining fantasy, if you see it as such.
I do not fish nearly as much as Facebook or Instagram might suggest. The trout and bass I catch 99% of the time are not trophies. I catch my backcast on trees and my forward cast does not always lay out like Jason Borger did it in A River Runs Through It. Yet, I am a pretty good angler and I fish more than most - but never enough. I have paid my dues and have put the time in. And quite honestly, I don't really give a shit about what your views on my angling prowess, or lack there of, might be. Nor should you care what I think about you and your fishing. In fact, neither of us probably know much about one another unless we are more than just "Facebook friends". That is part of the fantasy - we have more "Facebook friends" than we have "real" friends.
While a picture "is worth a 1,000 words", so often they say so little. Social media is ripe with grip and grins - and some REALLY nice fish are posted. Much larger than what I usually catch. But what does a fish photo really tell you? It tells me little about that fish, how it was caught, the struggle - or ease - in which it was caught. That in a nutshell is why fish photos just don't do much for me.
In my mind, the best fishing photos tell a story and the image above is one of my favorite photos I have ever taken, mostly because of the story. You certainly can't know the story from just the image but it gives you some clues about what is happening. You don't know that this is from "Crash Camp" which we did for Mike's birthday a few years ago. The photo hardly does the fog of that morning justice but it certainly tells a bit of the story of the morning. By the time this photo was taken, we were on fish number "I forget" which might explain the laughing smile on Ben's face as Mike is tight with yet another smallmouth. The fishing had been good enough that I picked up the camera for a bit rather than casting behind Mike's fish as we had been doing much of the morning. Smallmouth in the lower Wisconsin River very often will chase a hooked fish, not knowing it is hooked but rather thinking it has food that might get spit out or can be stolen. There is no way for you to know much of this story but I think it tells you a lot more than your standard grip and grin does. Images like this - whether they are telling a story about fishing, family, or something else - that are taken by others are what keep me on social media.
How to make the best of social media
Like many, I have something of a love/hate relationship with social media. I would miss the photos and the stories of fishing friends - which is why my break will come after trout season is over. I do not have it perfected or I would not feel the desire to take a social media break. How you make the best of social media is to find more of what makes you happy and less of what irritates you. Increase the signal, reduce the noise. The challenge is that much of the media - social or otherwise - knows that you stay longer and view more stories when you are upset than when you are happy. And the time you spend on their site directly affects how much money they make so it is in their interest to keep you pissed off. Simply put, like sex, anger sells and media companies and advertisers understand this better than us consumers.
We do not want social media to be real. Let's face it, most of the time our lives are not all that exciting. My real life on Instagram or Facebook would be boring - not that my what I post now is all that exciting. Accept that it is same for other people. I wish there were fewer shit-stirrers and more honesty online, but maybe not too much. I try to remember the stuff I like about social media - connecting with friends, seeing what they are doing, sharing and learning, interesting stories and photos that dig a little deeper. I try - but do not always succeed - at ignoring the noise, the trolls, and those that simply are not worth interacting with.