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.


No hashtag necessary.


203 thoughts on “#nofilter

  1. Wonderful post and a great refreshing perspective to read! You state, “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 I leave my phone at home when taking a walk in the woods and often run across something thinking “this would get me so many likes on Instagram”. The world we live in these days amaze me and I can’t yet wrap my head around what social media/hashtags will bring to the future. We all live in normal lives that spin around checking our Twitter feeds to our Instagram feeds. Is that the norm now and were missing the truth of the world?

  2. Much enjoy your writing/ thinking style. Its soft, friendly, and easy going. Serious without seeming so.
    The pic is wonderful. It looks like like a young maple, but since I didn’t catch where it was taken, if such info. was offered, I can’t be sure.
    Thanks for a pleasant post.

  3. Thanks so much for writing this post! You seem to ask all the right questions about #nofilter. And, as someone who’ll be attending medical school next year (I also love OUWB!), I particularly appreciated your medical student truths. I really look forward to following your blog and reading more about your med school adventures and thoughts!

  4. I am reminded when I read this, of how in love we are as a species with “reality”. Though we can not properly nail down a definition, everyone has an opinion on “reality”. It Makes one think. There are entire sites (Snops, Wikicheck etc…) that are devoted to determining fact from fiction for the populace. However even these sites, that dedicate most of their time to seeking truth, do not function with #nofilter. They simply gather the most consistent information. Is there such a thing REALLY as #nofilter in the “real” world? Just this question alone would make this Post great. The personal touches threaded throughout make it amazing! :)

    • Thank you for the kind words! I like your idea that we, as humans, are determined to find out the “truth”- makes me think of all the conspiracy theories out there. And you’re right- these theories themselves don’t relay the whole “truth,” just a bunch of relevant information. Very interesting! Thanks for bringing up this point!

  5. and yes, i guess we are now living in a time where the reality isn’t fun without filters, nobody wants to see ’em as-is either.. may be this is what technology brings along with it’s lure.. nice read and congrats on being FP.

    • I remember being in love with instagram filters when I first saw them and the normal pictures seemed to pale in comparison (pun intended). But more recently, I’ve wondered if everything is slowly becoming so filtered that, like you said, “reality isn’t fun” anymore- and that makes me a little sad. Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting!

  6. Josh says:

    Wonderful post! I’ve been learning and attempting to practice authenticity for a couple years now. It began when I discovered my father had committed some crimes when I was little. He has been living lie all his life, and that’s no way to live and raise a family. Now my relationships are based on transparency.

    • I like your point of applying authenticity to relationships- probably one of the most important (if not THE most important) aspect to any relationship. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • Do you mean blogging gurus or writing gurus or life gurus, in general? Haha, no blogging gurus as of yet- I’m just learning as I go along. But plenty of writing and life gurus; there are so many great writers and thinkers I come across daily (on WordPress and otherwise). Thanks for following- hope I can write again soon!

  7. I love this! It is so sad but true that in today’s insta-digi-world we feel the need to pronounce the validity of our thoughts, images, posts etc. Ordinary can be so easily manipulated into extraordinary. Kudos to you for not taking the hashtag at face value and providing a lovely reflection. Fun read!

    • Thanks for reading! Sometimes I feel we’re so entrenched in something that is so obviously fabricated that we need to, as you say, “pronounce the validity of our thoughts.” Makes me a little scared to see what’s next.

  8. stevenhlatto says:

    Definitely no filters. As a hobby photographer for many years it upsets me to see good photographs ruined with lame filters thinking that they have made it look better.

    • I always find it interesting to hear from photographers- and I think you bring up a good point about “filters” which may be don’t make a photograph look better, only different.

  9. You will find along your journey, training to be a physician, that truth changes with perspective and becomes the filter, distorting much of the human experience. Your eyes and hands will trick you, as will the fund of knowledge you have been given. But when you blend it all together and listen to what you feel, you will have become a physician. Ok, forget all that… medicine is fun.

  10. I think people employ filters because in this day and age where anyone and everyone can express themselves thru the internet/blog, that we need to find a way to sift thru the crap to find what is interesting to the “filterer. You have made a good point. We are all looking to read something that expresses something in a new and novel manner and connects with us. Good writing makes us feel good, great writing helps others feel and less alone. Just some thoughts on the topic, sorry to yammer on so.

    • Thanks for your comment! I do think “#nofilter” makes it easy to find unfiltered images, but that’s still saying that the majority of our stuff (images/writing, etc) is actually filtered. Do you think that’s always been the case?

  11. I like to think of photographs as being authentic, a real life capture worth sharing with other people. Why should I – or anyone else for that matter – need to dress it up or change reality as if I was working for a cosmetic company? I do add hashtags to those photographs I put up on Google Plus, but none of them will ever be #nofilter or #nophotoshop because, for me, that should be a given: they are all #sooc.

  12. It pains me to think that people require a definer to tell between reality and their preconceived ideas of what is real at all; it’s one of the reasons I don’t use Instagram. This was an extremely well-written piece. #nofilter

  13. Thanks for sharing this. I have no medical school experience but I think it must be like nothing else other people experience in graduate school. Being a mother of 4 I can relate to the nap attack though!

  14. What an excellent article! It’s hard to tell what is authentic these days, or unfiltered as you said… all a bit overwhelming, and probably in the eye of the beholder or in the intent of the originator oftentimes. I’m glad to have read your post. #unfiltered! ~SueBee

  15. A beautiful and thoughtful post, beautifully written. You write, “It can also be argued that a filter is a contributing factor in how we each define various emotions, experiences, and relationships.” That’s perhaps a twenty-first century way of expressing Schopenhauer’s “The world is my idea.” Don’t we each have an entirely subjective “account” of what has happened, and is happening, to us — even it’s only ourselves to whom we recount it?

    • I appreciate you sharing your opinion. Prior to starting medical school, I was always a little hesitant about getting a flu shot. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned so far, it’s that vaccinations are extremely important not only for you but those around you who may be more vulnerable to getting sick. I’m not trying to start a debate, just giving you my opinion as well. Thanks for reading!

  16. Congrats on making “freshly pressed” and thanks for this. It really makes a lot of sense, and it gives one genuine pause. Best of luck in your medical career. We need as many thoughtful docs as we can get.

  17. SO often, the #nofilter hashtag, or any hashtag for that matter seems to about a claim to fame, rather than the innate beauty of a photo or a post.
    I appreciate your non-filtered list and I think it when we are given something without predetermined qualifications, we are as individuals, able to connect personally. ACK! I think I am starting to ramble! I am so sorry! What I am trying to say is that #nofilter hashtags end up filtering our view, since they are a distraction.
    Great post, congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  18. jasminesc says:

    But what does “constructed reality” mean? Is that not interpretation and art? When you snap a photo of something, it’s never what was really there but rather an interpretation that was made by the device that took it. Changing the settings of the photo so that it’s darker or lighter, more or less in focus.. this isn’t considered editing your photo or filtering it, so why is it even less authentic to add in editing effects afterwards. Sometimes adding a filter is making an image FEEL more like the actual event felt, it’s adding to the way that you interpreted it. Thanks for your post! a unique topic and interesting point of view.

  19. jonburgundyy says:

    Totally agree with the nap-attack idea! Nodding off on the bus and headbutting the window on the front row of seats where everyone can see you is definitely not fun.

    • Hahaha, sounds exactly like a “nap-attack”. Once, I fell asleep while sitting at my dining room table only to wake up 45 minutes later realizing I hadn’t even taken off my coat yet..

  20. Interesting that you spent 7 months procrastinating and then the idea of “authenticity” prompted you to write a post… Whatever the reason, It was an excellent read, lots of food for thought, and I feel an odd sense of relief that I didn’t go to medical school. I hope you get a chance to write more frequently.

  21. The increase of the presence of constructed realities is fascinating and a little terrifying. I hope our culture doesn’t lose it’s ability to live in the real world with real people… and of course, our real selves.

    • I agree! Technology advancements have made creating constructed reality so much more accessible and mainstream. And though constructed reality may have some perks, its always nice to take a step back and remind yourself of the fact that it is constructed. Thanks for reading :)

  22. seweverythingblog says:

    Found you on Freshly Pressed. Congrats on being “pressed”. Great post! I see the #nofilter hashtag (and hashtags in general) as a sign of these times where digital access has almost become part of our DNA (so to speak). I see #nofilter as a check against the Photoshoped-to-death digital world?
    I’m amazed that you are able to combine blogging (albeit once in 7 months :) ) and medical studies. More power to you.

  23. Nicely written, and so true. As a nurse I need to filter my descriptions while speaking with friends and laypersons. Often accused of using too many acronyms. I have to filter myself when around non medical people. Thanks for sharing.

  24. It IS odd that we have gone in this direction. I recall thinking something similar with regards to food. I was looking at the fruit juice and realised how many of them were boasting the percentage of ‘real juice’ and I thought, ‘when did it become the norm that they promote how much fruit there is? Isn’t it supposed to be FRUIT JUICE?!’

  25. What a thought provoking post! I’ve always pondered myself what our society has come to with the advent of the hashtag itself. Since when does our society have to place labels on everything that we do, how we feel, and what we post? Often, we see the world through rose colored glasses, a world that is already biased and construed the way in which we perceive it to be, based on the varying ideologies we believe in. We as a society, have always put this into a specific category or label and thus what can really be perceived as the truth? Hence the newfound hashtag, #nofilter. Sometimes the refreshing no filter, non-rose tinted glasses is how we need to see the world. To see it for what it is, in all of its glory. Not everything can be as tidy and happy as a Disney fairy tale.

    • After reading this post, I was trying to determine how I felt about the author’s point of view, which I felt to be different than my own. I’m guilty of using the hashtag #nofilter on pictures, and find myself doing so with epic scenery I’ve captured of Mother Nature being so incredibly beautiful and surreal, it is important for me to note to others that I haven’t done anything to alter the image. As a graphic designer, that distinction is important. But I also think it’s important in this digital age we live in, to share pictures that reflect our world as we see it, and not (as you say) through rose tinted glasses.

      Having determined my own thoughts and reading your comment to the original post, I realized that maybe my point of view wasn’t so different after all. For me, the discussion will give me pause as to whether I choose to use filters at all when capturing life as we know it, so that my perspective on social media doesn’t need the qualifier of a hashtag like #nofilter.

      • I enjoy both of your opinions. And as a graphic designer, I’m sure it’s important to label something “original”. I just think that “#nofilter” has an aura of “grittiness”/”being edgy”. And I wonder if that is the reason for it in the first place? Why not just post a photo and trust that your audience will know that it is unfiltered?

  26. I walk in the hills a lot, and take a lot of pictures. And photographers have always adjusted images – the difference of the past is the darkroom capabilities of most of us is limited, so when digital gave many the opportunity to do things previously impossible. The chance was taken. A good picture will always be good, because the eye of the photographer has seen the possibility, not because of, or lack of filters . Love your list, and this is an interesting debate to start.


    • I like your point a lot! Agreed, I think we have always filtered both our perceptions and our images but I think it’s interesting that we’ve started labeling images in that way. Thanks for reading, I hope you get to keep walking and taking pictures!

  27. A really thought-provoking post (Kari H. pointed me in this direction). What you say about how “filters” have become the norm, the sort of natural state of being, so that we have to claim “authenticity” with a filter itself…that’s a great point. And yet, #nofilter is, itself, a filter, but ther is something is us that wants, that yearns for the unvarnished, the original, the beautiful messiness of unfiltered reality itself. I hope you keep writing.

    • Thanks for reading! I really like what you said about “#nofilter” being a filter itself. Isn’t it interesting that hashtags are designed to categorize and make things easier to find, and with “#nofilter”, we categorize things that just are? Like you said, they are “unvarnished, original” and “beautifully messy” and somehow we feel the need to acknowledge that.
      PS I just briefly checked out your blog and the project you’re doing with Proliteracy Detroit sounds very, very cool!

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