Imposters & Authenticity

A couple of weeks ago I was reading an article on the Farnam Street Blog, Batesian Mimicry: Why Copycats are Successful. In summary, there are two types of snakes, the Mexican Milk Snake and the Texas Coral Snake. The Texas Coral Snake is extremely dangerous and will kill you in a second while the Mexican Milk Snake is pretty harmless. What’s so amusing about this, you ask?

They both look exactly the same. I would highly suggest checking out the full article. The point is predators won’t bother mixing both of them up. It is too risky. How can one tell the difference if the other is an imposter of the other or not? This is where I was a little mind blown. The snake itself can only tell whether or not it is an imposter.

“This brings up an interesting, at times paradoxical, question: Who can best tell the difference between a Coral Snake and its Mimics? The Coral Snake itself.

If it is the real thing, it only knows this to be true and if you begin to think about this in the human world, you will begin to see similarities. 

The real thing knows a fake. Charlie Munger once commented on this in relation to the field of money management:

“It’s very hard to tell the difference between a good money manager and someone who just has the patter down. If you aren’t a good money manager yourself, rather than trying to pick one, you’re probably better off with a low cost index fund. ‘It takes one to know one’.

Ever since reading this article, I couldn’t stop thinking about it in my day to day interactions. More importantly, it followed me everywhere as I thought about how I can deepen my authenticity and surround myself with more authentic people. I’ve been blessed to meet many authentic, genuine people over the past couple of years, and they are the wisest people I know. They can tell an imposter from the real thing, and they are the type of people I know have the ability to see right through me.

They don’t inhibit some special powers, but they practice what they preach and in turn, have the ability, through intuition, to tell who is an imposter. What I’ve learned is they are too wise to tell another person they are an imposter. Instead, they live their lives as a message and don’t simply use their words.

I took a step back from my writing for a period of time this year because I wanted to make sure my words held weight. While technology provides me this platform to express myself and reflect, I wondered if each word written is truly authentic. If I needed to think about it, perhaps I needed to take a step away.

Coming back to the writing, I’ve slowly become more more cognizant of the effects of technology on our outputs and how we represent ourselves to the world. I decided to delete my Instagram a couple of weeks ago after realizing I am consuming more noise than I need. My brain capacity is being filled with things that I could definitely do without. Facebook, this blog, and my other communication platforms easily serve as substitutes that I already use.

In the end I wonder if social media could be making our society less authentic, less bonded than we were before. It might be an extreme assumption to make since I know technology is what we make of it to be. However, is our lack of mindfulness on social media, the ability to choose the way we look and what we put out into the world a skewed reality? I often talk about maya, or illusion. Could it be that technology is furthering our illusion of individuality, the sense of “me” and “me” only thus creating a detachment from humanity and the rest of the inter-workings of the world?

I was recently reading a DailyGood article, Mind the Stream: Where Mindfulness and Technology Meet. In it, Emily Rose Barr writes, “A 2011 study suggested that nearly 41 percent of us have a behavioral addiction, that number sure to have grown with the increase of social media platforms, smartphones, and tablets. By design, such technology is meant to catch our attention, and sustain it. It’s easy to see how we’ve become a culture caught up by likes and shares, one that struggles to appreciate the here-and-now of our experience”. 

The effects of our devices and social media on mindfulness and authenticity may be greater than we think. Simon Sinek talks a lot about this, and although I’m a little skeptical to say that this only plagues one age group or demographic, his words ring true in many instances (in my opinion).

In one of his interviews he talks about millennial and internet addiction

We know engagement with social media and our cell phones releases a chemical called dopamine…Dopamine is the exact same chemical that makes us feel good when we smoke, drink, and gamble. In other words, it is highly, highly addictive.

We have age restrictions on smoking, drinking, and gambling, but no age restrictions on social media and cell phones. You have an entire generation who is access to an addictive, numbing chemical called dopamine as they are going through the high stresses of adolescences. Almost every alcoholic discovered alcohol when they were teenagers. When we’re very very young, the only approval we need is the approval of our parents.  

As we go through adolescence, we go through this transition of approval from our peers…it allows us to acculturate outside of our immediate family to the broader life. It is a highly stressful period of our lives and we are supposed to learn to rely on our friends…Some people cope with alcohol and it becomes hardwired. They will not turn to people, they will turn to the bottle. We are allowing access to these dopamine inducing devices and as they get older, too many kids don’t know how to create deep meaningful relationships. They will admit their relationships are superficial. They will admit they don’t rely on their friends. They have fun with their friends, but they also know their friends will cancel with them if something better comes along.

Deep meaningful relationships are not there and worse, they don’t have the coping mechanism to deal with stress to when when significant stress comes up, they are not turning to a person. They are turning to a device, to social media which offer temporary relief. We know, the science is clear, that people who spend more time on Facebook suffer higher rates of depression than those who spend less time on Facebook.

This brings me back to my previous question. Could it be that authenticity and mindfulness are more linked to technology than we think? The signs don’t have to be flashy and loud. In my experience, especially when I find myself distracted or using my device more, I find it effects me in the subtlest ways.

As Emily Barr says, Mindfulness does not mean accepting each moment as perfect or even desirable; yet our photos, posts, and status updates can paint an image of our lives untarnished. Before you go to engage online, see who you can engage with in your present surroundings. Before you update your status, think about the message you’re trying to convey, and the present pain or discomfort you might be trying to avoid. Before you try to capture nature’s beauty on a 5-inch screen, rely on your 5 senses. Pause to take it all in, and let that be enough.”

Perhaps if we take a step back, we may find our true selves outside of the external noise that often consumes our very being. The power of the inter-web can be used for so much whether it is good, bad, or anything in between. I wonder what world would be possible if we meant each and every word we put out into the world whether it is through the internet or in person. Further, what if we were to question how to we perceive the noise that streams through technology. Our capacity to engage in the world of connectedness has the power to consume. We may constantly remain in the game of “comparing” and looking at another’s life rather than our own.

Our true, authentic selves, the humanity within, will thank us. 


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Rina PatelComment