This Woman Faked Her Tropical Vacation

It’s no secret that most of us view the lives of our friends and family at least partially through a filter of social media — but how big is the difference between reality and what we see on Facebook? Graphic designer and student Zilla van den Born, 25, faked a five-week vacation in Southeast Asia order to examine just that question. The results are as fascinating as they are eerie

Van den Born, who lives in Amsterdam, created the project as part of her university course. “Everybody knows that pictures of models are manipulated. But we often overlook the fact that we manipulate reality also in our own lives,” she said to Oddity Central. Accordingly, she concocted a scheme intended to show how much we manipulate the image of our own lives on social media. “We create an online ideal world which reality can no longer meet,” she explained. “My goal was to prove how common and easy it is to distort reality.”

As far as van den Born’s friends and family knew, she spent her vacation traveling through Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. Van den Born posted photos on her Facebook page of all her adventures, keeping everyone updated as she went: She went snorkeling; she traveled in tuk-tuks; she visited Buddhist temples; she ate amazing meals; and she bought plenty of souvenirs. She even Skyped with her loved ones from her hotel room. In reality, though, van den Born spent those five weeks at home in Amsterdam, carefully crafting her fake vacation. She Photoshopped all the images she posted on her Facebook page, either made her meals or ordered them from Asian restaurants, and purchased her souvenirs from local stores. The only person she let in on the secret was her boyfriend.

Here’s how she created the images:

And here’s how she accomplished her Skype conversations:

At the end of it all, she unmasked her deception, making sure to capture her friends’ and family members’ reactions on video. Some of them were amazed; many were confused; and some were actually angry:

I can kind of understand the anger; it speaks to the greater issue of manipulation on the Internet. It’s why there was such a strong reaction to Facebook’s somewhat unethical experimentation on its users — we don’t like being lied to, and we don’t like being turned into research subjects without our knowledge.

But at the same time, I think the experiment was well worth doing. A lot of research has been done in recent years detailing the effect of our Facebook and other social media feeds on how we feel about our own lives; we also know that how we curate the image of our lives online reveals a surprising amount about the reality of what’s actually going on. But although these studies are all well and good on a theoretical level, we’re not always able to internalize the lessons they teach us. Van den Born’s experiment serves as a more visceral reminder that we would all do well to take everything on social media with a grain of salt. Sure, that person’s updates might make us jealous of the seemingly perfect life they live, but there’s usually more to it than just what we see — and the same goes for our own lives, as well.

See more of van den Born’s work, including the "photos" from her "vacation," at her website.

Image: Zilla van den Born/Vimeo