Peeling back the layers to discuss authenticity in the modern digital age
Authenticity: Proferred as the key to social media, the purpose of story telling, and general panacea for disillusioned millennials. But what does authenticity mean in the modern digital age? It was this question — an exploration of 'peeling back the layers', so to speak — that dominated conversation during our fourth #BuroSocial to connect Singapore's creative community over dinner that, this time, was held inside the Club Monaco store at Marina Bay Sands.
As always, we handpicked four different hosts — Jason Song (founder of ACRE), Jaime Lee (founder of The Paper Bunny), Derek Ong (co-founder of Elementary Co.) and Olivia Lee (founder of Olivia Lee Studio) — to each bring four of their own friends to dinner; dynamic individuals who were open to meeting new people and discussing the state of affairs both at home and abroad.
Watch the video for an inside look into our latest #BuroSocial — as we asked our four hosts: What does authenticity mean to you?
As we sat on industrial steel chairs surrounded by transitional pieces from Club Monaco's fall/winter 2017 collection (love the 'Reigning Champ' printed tees and sweaters), guests dined on an impeccable menu expertly curated by Lavish Catering (including tender striploin steak and fresh barramundi) paired with fine champagne from Perrier-Jouët (the bright Belle Epoque 2008 was a crowd favourite); all sitting pretty amidst fairy lights supplied by Midnight Sparks and flower arrangements by master artists, Floral Magic.
And, as a soft-launch, we introduced our conversation card game, 'Double Tap' — created in collaboration with Smol Tok — to spark thoughtful connection and banter over digital social issues (for example: what would cause you to deactivate your Instagram account? Hmmm, definitely leaked naked photos!)
So what do our four hosts think about authenticity in the modern digital age? We caught up with them during dinner to gather their thoughts — see what they had to say below.
What does authenticity mean to you? I think authenticity is a kind of intelligence you can own for yourself. I think sometimes we go around borrowing ideas from others, and it takes effort to really looki inside yourself to discover what you want to say to this world.
In a digital connected world, do you think it's hard to be authentic? In today's digital age I think we do struggle to be authentic. It really does start from being comfortable with who you are. In order to be authentic in a digital realm, you must first be authentic in a physical realm. Digital is just an amplification of who you project yourself to be, so authenticity needs to arise from the person first. Authenticity starts from your interaction with your friends and colleagues; it runs throughout the gamut of your social interactions and then extends into the digital realm. So whatever you discover about yourself, whatever is true about yourself, will somehow get through in the digital realm.
Is it important for your designs to convey authenticity? We try to have a cognitive appeal to our work. Design is subjective and sometimes people don't get whether it works or doesn't work for them. But if it is reinforced with a cognitive element — such as verbal tag lines or statements — I think it makes it more appealing. Good design is clear and succinct and this is what we try to do with our work at ACRE for our clients.
How do you define authenticity? Being true to yourself and embracing yourself for who you really are. It's about not taking yourself too seriously — I think people really appreciate that.
Do you think it's possible to be authentic on social media? I think it's possible to be authentic on social media. You can always be real. But social media itself is about presenting a beautiful version of yourself — so you don't show every aspect of your life — but it doesn't mean you can't be authentic in the things you say and the pictures that you post.
Why do you think people are afraid to show their real self? Because they are afraid that people won't like what they see and they're not good enough. I feel that sometimes, when you really do express yourself in the way you really want to, people really resonate with that. When you show that you're not perfect, that's when real connection happens.
Do you try to be authentic with the products you create for The Paper Bunny? Yeah definitely. With the Paper Bunny, we try to create products that encourage people to really embrace themselves. We strive to help people to believe in themselves — to actually see that there is hope in the things that they do, and that there is beauty in believing in themselves. We hope for a world where people are real and not afraid of who they really are.
How can someone be authentic? There are bunch of layers that you have as a person, so authenticity is when you reach that final layer and you are able express that final layer to everybody. I don't think everyone reaches that stage where they can be their authentic self — there will always be this struggle to be authentic or wear a mask.
Why do think people wear masks? I think people wear masks because it's expected of us in this digital age. Your digital self is out for people to see 24/7, so if you don't present a mask, you're kind of afraid of what people will perceive of you. So it's hard for you to be your authentic self and peel back those layers.
For social media, do you think people feel their 'real' self is not good enough? I think there is this expectation of what people are supposed to be. For example, being a business owner with my agency Elementary, I'm supposed to behave in a certain way, I'm supposed to present myself in a certain way — so there is certain fear that I can't act out or be who I truly amin front of clients.
For the work that you create at Elementary, is authenticity a goal that you strive for? Yes. Unfortunately there are these corporate layers that we all have to abide by, and there are certain things you try to present to your clients, but there is always push back. What if people perceive the work in the wrong way? What if they don't believe in this? So therefore we have to conform to expectations. It's a sad situation, but as a creative, we try to push the boundaries as much as possible. But that being said, some brands have their own history and identity, and we can't go pass that — push what we think is authentic — and we have to adhere to their vision. It's always a trade-off; an optimisation of authenticity and their brand.
What does authenticity mean to you? I think authenticity is being the same person to everyone you meet. There are no pretenses — you are just the same person everywhere.
Is inauthenticity bad in itself? For me, authenticity is something to work towards and to aspire to. I can't imagine how challenging and tiring it must be to live an inauthentic life. It's more relaxing and easier to be authentic.
How does being 'real' apply to your work as an industrial designer? Authenticity is really important in design. I think people relate best to work that is true. What that means is it that it's a very honest approach to design — you honestly want to help people, you honestly want to make something beautiful. You're not trying to pretend to be something else through design. You're using design to connect to people and authenticity is the key to connection.
Any examples of work that you think exemplifies authenticity? James Turrell is an artist who works with light. His work is very pure, there are no pretenses — it's just his honest approach to using light as a material. And if you look at his work, it's just so beautiful.