“If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”- The Matrix
I’ve been attempting to piece together how my current stance on social media usuage started – bouncing my thoughts off friends, family, my partner and a few colleagues. To date, our conversations have fluctuated from social media as a useful tool to enable connectivity in the modern world, to the despair at the lack of intrinsic real life connections.
Overall I agree with those that despair. Those despairing at the interpretation we, as a civilisation, have formed that relationships are a portable convenience, always available, on our smart phones. The ease in which we can form emotional connections with personas online, whom we have never met, to the detriment of the relationships we have with those that have seen our faces and heard our voices, held our hands, and engaged with in real life, real time.
Despair at the lost flutter of excitement felt from seeing the joy in a friends face when they tell us of their good news/ brave decision/ that hug after months or years apart; or the pangs of sadness felt when we see them hold back tears when seeking our support. The empathic majority of us, and I note that some individuals are more able to empathise than others, acknowledge that human connection relies less on what is said, but more on how it is said- the body language, tone, eye contact, touch. Our senses guide and augment our interactions… perhaps Huxley was alluding to this when he wrote of the cinematic experiences, ‘Feelies’, in A Brave New World. We require more than just sound and vision to be truly wrapped up in an experience.
How can the internet provide the immersive experiences in which we truly lose ourselves? To forget all else of consequence in our lives in a moment of connection with another human being, I feel, cannot be mimicked by a screen. With social media, ‘Likes’ replace a smile or touch, a new ‘Follower’ is of more worth than a friend you call in an hour of need for support/ reassurance/ an ear/ a shoulder. We are losing. Losing our enduring relationships, friendships, and ability to form meaningful connections in the real world, to a promise of connection delivered by strings of code and from identities obscured by pseudonyms. Social media demands us to ‘get connected’, and yet can we connect, in the truest sense, with people we may never meet?
Social media drives an ‘Opt in’ approach to disclosure – we select the suspects of ourselves we promote to the greater online beyond. With a camera phone, content relative to controversial or on-trend topics, and an internet connection, anyone has the potential for online fame. A day-in-the-life has a selection of hashtags (#ootd #instadaily #[anything]life) directing similar-minded users to content of interest. Our lives are now reality shows, given the desire and technology to connect and upload to the www.
But what we chose to promote is edited and censored by our inbuilt filters. I can only speculate the train of thought that might occur for those seeking reward from the online realm: “Dare I be this open?”; “Is this the best ‘me’ I can be?”; ” They got a ‘N’ followers for talking about ‘X’…If I talk about the same, I’ll be as famous”; “My voice matters. I matter.”
I plan to explore the ideas of social media, disclosure, the relationship between online and offline personas, to name a few, in subsequent posts. In delving starting the research into cyber psychology, I unearthed more questions than answers to my original questions.