Besides featuring in Beyonce’s “***Flawless”, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a prominent feminist, accomplished writer and frequent lecturer. Her 2013 TEDx talk, “We should all be feminists,” caught the attention of Queen Bey and her 2009 TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story” has garnered nearly nine millions views on the TED website.
In “Single Story,” Adichie explains that we are all “impressionable and vulnerable” to the contents of a story. When we hear the same single stories about a person, group or country again and again, we come to believe and buy into the single stories. Complex personalities, experiences and people are flattened and diminished with one dimensional narratives.
Adichie uses her experiences as a Nigerian living in America to explain the detriments of a single story. In America, Adichie has been faced with and confined to incomplete stereotypes of Africans because most Americans only know Africa as a continent of breathtaking wilderness, fraught with war, poverty, disease and helpless people waiting to be saved.
“The Danger of a Single Story” is a worthwhile 18 minutes of reflection and provocation. What are the single stories we consume and likewise produce? How can we diversify narratives to capture and appreciate all angles and aspects?
There is a danger in the single social media story. With Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and everything in between, we peruse snippets of our friends and favorite celebrities’ lives. Everything on our news feeds is filtered and curated to show the Internet our best selves. Even if we aren’t actively photoshopping our imperfections, we are taking multiple photos to get the best angle or rethinking our message to have the catchiest ensemble of 140 characters.
There is an enlightening, fascinating article on ESPN titled “Split Image,” about the manicured façade adolescents and young adults share on Instagram compared to their actual day-to-day struggles. Social media sites are full of smiling friends out to lunch, the scenery of a great adventure, unforgettable parties, trophies and accomplishments. It is a single story of happiness.
We’ve all had days where we sift through social media while watching hours of Netflix to escape the workload of college and pressures of impending adulthood. It always seems that on lousy days, when homesickness and feelings of being overwhelmed are at their greatest, that our friends post the most exciting photos. Through the comparisons we draw via the filtered platforms through which our generation shares our lives, we come up short. But dial the clock forward one week and the tides change; we may be posting the greatest moments of spring break while our friends across the country dredge through midterms.
Rarely do people post snippets of their average or worst days. So how do we diversify our social media narratives? Do we take it upon ourselves to post the mundane and sacrifice likes and retweets? With time will we mature and understand the reality of social media? Or do we need to spend more time looking away from the screen and have honest conversations about our highs and lows?
More closely aligned to the examples in Adichie’s lecture, how can we diversify our worldview through social media? Should we like and follow a variety of newspapers, magazines, authors and celebrities from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives to speckle our news feeds with multiple stories? How can we instill checks and balances within ourselves to seek multiple narratives when the mainstream only delivers one?
I love watching the global stories on Snapchat and seeing people share their home city. Through 150 seconds of multiple chunks and points of view, you can grab insight into a different city or culture via the eyes and words of the people who live there. That is very powerful: people telling the world their story on their own terms. But these stories are not the full story; you cannot know a city under two minutes. Only those wealthy enough to afford a smartphone share that platform, disallowing others from participating.
Adichie ends her TED talk celebrating the power of storytelling: how stories can “empower and humanize” when we choose to “reject the single story.” Seek out and create multiple stories, perspectives, authors and news sources. We do ourselves and others a great deed and the utmost respect when we appreciate the complexity, highs and lows of every person, city and culture. We are all much, much more than a single story. We are the culmination of hundreds of stories: stories from the past, stories yet to be written and stories we are actively writing ourselves.
Heather O’Keeffe is a senior studying biomedical engineering and minoring in sports medicine. Her watch tan is better than yours.