No doubt social media has changed the way we perceive and interact with the outside world. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we can constantly stay in touch with our friends, exchanging photos, thoughts and moments. We can also connect with people that we would never have the opportunity to meet, as well as see places that we would never have the opportunity to see.

Great – but like many of us, I somehow have mixed feelings about social media.

Isn’t this constant stream of tweets, posts, pictures and likes very surreal? Aren’t we somehow replacing real people and sensations with virtual connections?

By sharing every single moment of our life, I wonder if we are actually enjoying what is present in the here and now. The majority of the posts with hastags like #fun #great #cool seem only a way to impress people. And are we enjoying for real the sunset in front of our eyes - or rather our screen?

Perhaps, this is one big illusion.

The distorting and perturbing side of social media is precisely what the project of the Dutch student Zilla van den Born well portrays. The Amsterdam-based student, 25, told everyone (except for her boyfriend, the only person who knew the truth) that she would be travelling for five weeks around Asia. She packed her bags, went to the airport, said goodbye to her family and friends… and went back home, where she instead spent the following five weeks.

During those 42 days, she behaved as most of us do in our current Instagram society– namely, she posted a torrent of pictures on her social media pages. Photos of herself eating exotic food, sitting next to a Buddhist monk in a temple, and snorkeling into the waters of Thailand. She uploaded images of stunning beaches and astonishing sunsets, as well as images of delicious Thai food and great nights out. She even redecorated her own apartment to make it look like an Asian hotel room, so to fool her parents during Skype conversations.

In reality, she had never left her home city. All pictures were taken in Amsterdam, with the help of Photoshop and filters. Very hard to believe, she didn’t see amazing sunsets and beaches. She never had dinner in a Thai restaurant. Neither she made new friends.

Zilla played the prank as part of a project for her University. As she told media in the Netherlands, her goal was “to prove how common and easy it is to distort reality. Everybody knows that pictures of models are manipulated. But we often overlook the fact that we manipulate reality also in our own lives”.

With this project, Zilla certainly fooled her family and friends. But most importantly, she showed us all how social media can destabilize the gap between feeling and seeing, looking and touching, texting and socialising.

Social media are great – but they are only a representation of real life. And often distorted.

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