Social media can connect people and unite folks from all walks of life, but it also has the power to distort reality and make people depressed that their life isn’t as glamorous or exciting as their peers.
In 2014, a Dutch 25-year-old’s friends, peers, and family members were left jealous every time she posted photos of her epic backpacking adventure in south-east Asia. However, they had no idea that each photo contained clues about what the 25-year-old was really up to…
The Exciting News
In April 2014, a 25-year-old Dutch student, Zilla van den Born, told all of her friends, family members, classmates, and professors that she was about to take some time off of school to go on an epic 5-week-long vacation all around South East Asia.
Preparing For The Trip
Zilla’s flight was scheduled to leave on April 23, 2014, and in the days before her big send-off, she shared photos on social media documenting how she was preparing and packing for her adventure abroad. While the trip was over a month long, Zilla was taking only the bare minimum so she could fit everything in a single backpack and a shoulder bag…
On the morning of April 23, 2014, Zilla had her parents drive her to the train station in Amsterdam, and said her goodbyes before getting on a train that would take her to the airport. But before she left, Zilla handed her parents an itinerary of her trip so they would know where she was at all times.
Zilla’s parents were sad to say goodbye to their daughter and worried about her safety since she was traveling alone, but they were also excited that she had the opportunity to travel the world and expand her horizons. After saying goodbye, Zilla got on the train that would take her directly to the airport…
Documenting Every Step
Once Zilla made it to the airport, she would finally embark on her 42-day adventure to explore Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. While waiting for her flight in the terminal, Zilla shared photos of herself starting her journey at the train station as well as a photo of her passport.
Arriving In Paradise
As she was boarding the plane, Zilla texted her parents to let them know that she was about to take off and promised to let them know that she arrived safely the minute the plane landed. After about 15 hours in the sky, Zilla sent a message to her parents and posted a photo on social media documenting her arrival…
As soon as Zilla got settled into her hotel room, she Skyped with her parents to show her where she would be staying for the next few weeks while she was in Thailand. When Zilla Skyped with her parents a few days later, she told them all about the cool temples she visited and all the local food she was trying.
Backpacking Around South-East Asia
When Zilla moved on to Cambodia and then Laos, the 25-year-old would Skype with her parents and friends to show them her new hotel room. Each Skype session, Zilla would also fill them in on all the cool adventures she had been going on each day and the other backpackers she had met along the way…
Social Media Updates
While Zilla tried to make time to Skype her family each week she was away, she didn’t want to waste all of her vacation in her hotel room on the computer with people from home, so she promised she would post photos every day so everyone could see what she was doing.
Photos Of Paradise
So each day when Zilla got back to her hotel room, she would post whatever photos she took that day, which normally included photos of herself swimming in crystal clear waters at exotic beaches, visiting ancient temples, and eating delicious local foods…
Stuck At Home
All of Zilla’s friends and family members were understandably jealous of Zilla every time she posted photos of all the exciting things she was doing and seeing while she was backpacking and they were stuck at home spending their days at work or in class at school.
Living A Lie
What everyone didn’t realize, however, was that Zilla wasn’t actually doing any of the stuff that she posted photos and updates about on her social media pages either. In fact, the 25-year-old graphic design student wasn’t even in south-east Asia like she claimed to be…
Instead, Zilla was actually back at home in Amsterdam. Even though it seemed like she had been backpacking through Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos for the past few weeks, Zilla never actually left Amsterdam to begin with.
42 Days In Disguise
Zilla had faked the entire trip. For the past 42 days, Zilla had actually been in her apartment in Amsterdam. When she had to leave her apartment to go shopping for food or other supplies, she went out in disguises in case she ran into someone she knew…
Zilla was secretly trying to fool everyone she knew that she was on an epic vacation to south-east Asia, and in order to do that, she had to photoshop herself into photos and manipulate images so that it appeared she was actually in the countries she claimed to be in.
“The inspiration for this project came from combining my two passions together: photo manipulation and traveling,” Zilla said. “I wanted to prove how easily reality gets distorted.” So Zilla spent most of the 42-day experiment inside working on photoshopping photos that she would upload to social media…
Keeping Up Appearances
Zilla made her apartment appear like it was a hotel room in Asia, and would wake up in the middle of the night so that she could Skype with her family and some friends to really make them believe she was in a different part of the world in a different time zone.
For those 6 weeks, the only person who actually knew that Zilla was actually in Amsterdam was her boyfriend. At the end of her 42-day ‘vacation’, Zilla finally told everyone the truth about her experiment. While everyone understood that it was a project for school, some people were hurt that she lied to them for so long…
“I did this to show people that we filter and manipulate what we show on social media,” Zilla said about her experiment. “Thereby we create an online ideal world which reality can no longer meet. My goal was to prove how common and easy it is to distort reality.”
An Unexpected Result
Zilla was able to show how easy it is to manipulate our realities on social media, but she didn’t realize the toll it would take on herself and the people around her. “If I had the chance to do it again, I don’t think I would do it again,” Zilla said. “I really underestimated the impact of the project on myself and the people around me!”