Why Instagram and Facebook Posts of Sunsets will Save Humanity

Everyone has been there: while absentmindedly scrolling through one type of newsfeed or another, on a nice evening, maybe a weekend or maybe a weekday, we are bombarded with one thing: sunsets. We see it setting over water, behind trees, under clouds, and down mountainsides. Almost any permutation of an average to above average sunset is made available to us, given the right online friends and appropriate time of day at the perfect time of year. Hardly a week will go by where we do not see a sunset that isn’t one of the seven we might have born witness to ourselves.

In the present-day, one of the most prominent ways to share our thoughts, opinions, likes, dislikes, and ultimately values, is through social media. It is on the Internet and on our phones where we display an image of ourselves that we want others to take for face value. During the process of individuation, we tend to find that many of us are rather leaning towards generalization—it seems that many post the same things to get the same reactions, and feel validated by the people we may or may not know. The idea of the “online identity,” in many ways, has turned into a homogenization process of human self-conception.

While sometimes the sameness that we witness day in and day out on social media can be viewed in a negative light, there are instances where this is not detrimental to our idea of humanity, but rather promising. Like pictures of sunsets.

Thrown online in the wake of self-promotion, these photos represent something different than the typical post; they are not, at base, shameless vanity, but rather the antithesis of every reason that they were posted in the first place. Simply put, they may have initially been posted to convey one message, but rather encompass something entirely different—something that the “poster” may not even be aware of.

A photo, or 20 photos, of a gorgeous sunset, captures the idea that there is some recognition faculty that people have in common. We are able to recognize the power of something far beyond our control. There is something in the unpredictable that appeals to us—we are awestruck by the beauty of something that we ourselves did not create and could never replicate.

Photo after photo of sunsets captures the idea that to a certain degree, we understand our own fallibility as humans and are able to recognize the beauty and true power of life itself. When we capture and share the awe-inspiring, we exhibit subtle recognitions of something greater, something that cannot be harnessed, reined in, and controlled by the human population. In an era where we knowingly or unknowingly attempt to predict and control every aspect of our environments, we are increasingly taken aback by the unruliness, unpredictability, and serendipity of what we encounter in our everydays.

While we battle daily with the idea of our own impermanence and mortality, trying as we might to form some sort of permanence in our own lives, we are drawn to that which is simultaneously fleeting and eternal; gone but then back the next day, awe-inspiring yet short-lived. We attempt to immortalize something that we know will surely be born again. We cannot guarantee our own existence day to day, so we take comfort in that which is beautifully stable.

There is something that is calmed inside of me when I see countless photos of sunsets. It restores a certain faith that even though sometimes it seems that mankind is on an inevitable track to lose a sense of awe of the world around us, we still attempt to find immortality in the mortal. It renews the hope that maybe we can recognize pieces of forever embedded in the hope that the sun rises, just to set once more.

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