Sep 18, 2014

    Delusions of the online world

    ZILLA van der Born, a Dutch national, spent five weeks travelling through South-east Asia and documented the trip in photos on Facebook.

    She posed for pictures while dining on dumplings, snorkelling among colourful fish in azure waters and visiting ornately decorated Buddhist temples - compiling the lot into a series of videos for her Vimeo account.

    All in all, Ms van der Born seemed to have enjoyed a busy, albeit conventional, trip to Phuket, Luang Prabang or some other regional tourist hub.

    Or so it would appear.

    In reality, she never left her home city, Amsterdam. Each photograph was expertly contrived.

    According to Will Jones at GapYear.com, the restaurant and temple were all local Dutch establishments.

    The snorkelling photo? Taken in the pool at her apartment complex; the fish were added after the fact with Photoshop.

    "Zilla even redecorated her own bedroom to make it look like an Oriental hotel room so that she could have Skype conversations with her family - at random times in the night, of course - without raising suspicion," Mr Jones reported.

    Why the ruse? To take part in that distinctly 21st-century phenomenon of socially acceptable online bragging? The visual "humblebrag"? Born of so-called selfie-loathing?

    Yes and no.

    "I did this to show people that we filter and manipulate what we show on social media," Ms van der Born told Dutch journalists. "We create an online world which reality can no longer meet."

    The ultimate goal was to "prove how easy it is to distort reality", she said. "Everybody knows that pictures of models are manipulated. But we often overlook the fact that we manipulate reality also in our own lives."

    Her grand deception is reminiscent of a similar social media gimmick. Last year, Keisuke Jinushi, a 28 year-old freelance photographer in Japan, coined the concept of a "hitori date", or "one-man date".

    Does it sound creepy? A little.

    Mr Keisuke would set up Instagram photos to give viewers the impression that he was spending time with a girlfriend.

    In reality, each was a glorified selfie, specially angled to imply someone else was playing photographer.

    But the project turns out to be rather sweet. "Sometimes I go to cafes on my own, just to kill time," Mr Keisuke told CNN. "When I look around, I see couples spoon-feeding each other. I then have a strong feeling - I want this too! In order to have that, I needed a girlfriend, but I didn't have one. I was distressed."

    So he started the photo-blog and, to his surprise, found a vast online community that shared in this romantic dysphoria.

    Ms van der Born would likely agree. The Facebook photo fake-out raises some profound ideas about aesthetics and ontology in this age of interconnectedness.

    Whereas photo sharing once entailed passing around thick Kodak envelopes or negotiating bulky slide projectors, we now tell entire visual stories with a few clicks of a mouse.

    And the "fakecation" is a skewering critique of the delusion it can breed.