As I waited in line at the grocery store, a half-gallon of milk in one hand and a box of crackers in the other, I unconsciously thumbed through the photographs on one of the many social networks that has almost become uncomfortably synonymous with my generation. The photographs seemed to pass by in a blur of colors- friends enjoying dinner at a popular San Francisco restaurant, beautiful autumn colors highlighted on a trail, and an adorable pet doing something…well…adorable. However as I was admiring a photograph of an almost unbelievable sunset dipping into the ocean, my attention caught on one of the “hashtags” that lined the photo: “#nofilter”. It’s a common category, and almost anyone who has used the likes of Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook has seen it in reference to a photograph or image. But it got me thinking. Since when do we have to qualify our images with a claim to authenticity? In fact, the more pressing question is, since when have we decided that the default is actually something that is inauthentic?
Before I go any further, I guess I should explain the almost 7 month gap in between blog posts. And it actually has to do more with the topic at hand than you might think. As I ended my first year of medical school this past May, I thought of the many things I wanted to write to summarize the whirlwind that is the “M1” year. But I couldn’t really figure out how to tie it together. How do I write down in a few paragraphs what those last few weeks had meant to me? What could I say that hadn’t been already said before? What could I say that wouldn’t already be expected? Unfortunately, the answer to these questions is…nothing. What I say in my previous blog posts and what I will say in future ones will likely be redundant and universal, and let’s face it, maybe even boring. And so, like any good graduate student, I procrastinated. I waited and waited to find that missing piece of the puzzle that would help me sum up what had happened, until I realized that because of all that waiting, I was well into my second year of medical school. I realized that while what I had to say may be redundant and universal and boring, it was the truth as I saw it. #nofilter.
So as we come back to the topic at hand, I wonder, what has changed in our recent history that has caused us to become more aware of the fine line that exists between fact and fiction? More specifically, since when have we started acknowledging the fact that our reality, and the reality that we present to others, may in fact be constructed? The oldest example of a “#nofilter” that I can think of is actually the “op-ed” piece that is a staple of every major magazine and newspaper. And though this may seem like a contradiction, I have always viewed “op-ed” pieces as a way for authors to really express how they feel. Without the constraints of addressing both sides of the issue and without the pressure of appearing front and center (pun intended). To me, it almost made them seem like revolutionaries- saying what everyone was thinking, but what everyone was afraid to say. #nofilter.
However, I think the status of #nofilter has changed. At the present moment, #nofilter has much less to do with taking a stand and much more to do with a qualifying afterthought. It almost seems to be insidious and sneaky. Something that is labeled “#nofilter” is actually seen before the qualifying hashtag- the viewer is forced to marvel at the “truth” of the picture after already having formed an opinion on it. And this makes me a little uncomfortable. By qualifying the “truth” of an image, are we acknowledging that the vast majority of the images we share or create are constructed, even false? I’d like to think that this isn’t the case, but what if we are quickly moving towards a social arena in which constructed reality is the norm and the truth is a novelty? What if we are already there? #nofilter.
Sometimes a filter is a good thing, and many would argue that it is a “human” thing. This past week, as we learned how to do pelvic exams (on mannequins- before you start getting any silly ideas), I realized two things. The first is that medical students (including myself) have the maturity of a twelve year old boy and the second is that you need a really good filter to be able to stop that inner twelve year old boy from taking over. You actually need to be able to slip on a mask of professionalism no matter how hard you are giggling inside and even then, sometimes the giggles slip out…oops. It can also be argued that a filter is a contributing factor in how we each define various emotions, experiences, and relationships. And so we are back to square one. Have we always had the filter and only now are we acknowledging its existence in the contrary “#nofilter” hashtag?
And while we ponder the questions, here’s the list of “lessons learned” I had intended to write down…um…five months ago. #nofilter.
1. Medical school will teach you the value of a good, fine point, felt-tip pen.
2. Running may be overrated, but jogging is DEFINITELY underrated.
3. You’ll probably become desensitized to anatomy lab. And then you’ll start the “head and neck anatomy” unit (when your cadaver’s head will likely be cut half-open) and you’ll realize that you weren’t desensitized, you’d just stored those tearful and nauseated feelings away for opportune moments like when your professor comes around to ask you how you are doing.
4. Not everyone is ok with you describing the process of getting (and giving) your first flu shot while waiting in line for breakfast.
5. Paper cuts. So many paper cuts.
6. Instant gratification is a thing. You might find yourself enjoying an extra latte and a spontaneous shopping spree coinciding with an exam week.
7. You can get “nap-attacked.” Naps will find you and you will fall asleep no matter where you are, what you are doing, and where you have to go.
8. Your family and friends back home are important and will keep you tethered to the real world, but the friends you make in medical school are a wonderful breed on their own. And you’ll miss them just as much when you are away from the crazy and chaotic bubble of medical school.