I love Facebooking, blogging, tweeting (albeit infrequently), and staying up until the wee hours of the morning watching stupid YouTube videos.
There seems to be a backlash against social media lately, so I wanted to throw that out there first.
It has been eight years since Facebook first launched and Twitter first tweeted, and blogging is so grown up now that some people do it for a living. Musicians and performers are getting their big breaks through viral videos. It's only natural at this point that we're going to take a step back as a culture and ask ourselves and each other, "What does this say about us?"
The conclusion that I've observed many experts and non-experts making (if the articles my Facebook friends link to their profiles are to be believed) is that we are the most narcissistic generation ever, and that such websites have only exacerbated our collective exhibitionism and navel-gazing. Never mind that parents and grandparents have begun using these sites en masse. Never mind that most people still prefer face-to-face interaction over any other form of communication. Never mind that the world is still spinning and making its way around the big fireball every year, just like it did before we started tweeting each other cat videos and pictures of what we ate for dinner.
Never mind that I found most of the articles I've read on the subject through links posted on blogs and my Facebook news feed.
It seems that, in order to allow ourselves the indulgence of social media, we first feel the need to assuage our sense of guilt by conducting, publishing, writing about, interpreting, and re-posting all these studies about why it's bad. On news outlets. Which contain links at the bottom that allow thousands of readers to instantly "share" the news of such studies with our social networks.
And why do we, the common users, keep posting and re-posting links to such stories? To distance ourselves from social media and deny our very human hunger for validation? To communicate to our little universe, "Yes, I use these sites, but I'm not like that"? It's like admitting that one watches four hours of TV a day and then adding quickly, "but only PBS," in order to secure at least a little intellectual high-mindedness. It's a little silly, and definitely unnecessary.
Every decision we make in how we dress, what we say, and which actions we take originate, in part, in the identity we're constructing. The same goes with our online selves: the photos we post or allow to be posted by friends, the status messages and tweets we write, the number of "friends" we add (and how many of them we really feel we know), and - I've realized lately - the types of articles we share. Think about what types of articles you read, and which ones you ultimately post on your blog or profile. You don't just post what you read; you post what you want other people to know you read.
What I'm trying to say is that our online identities are a reflection of who we are, but don't make us who we are. Some time after this what-does-it-all-MEAN??? hysteria blew up, narcissism inextricably linked itself with social media in the eyes of the public. I was mostly a B student in math, but the correlation ≠ causation thing from Stats 135 has stuck with me over the years, and I'm pretty sure still applies in this case. Were there not self-absorbed people before the 21-st century? Did people not talk about themselves to excess? Did young people not display arrogant bravado and change friends every two minutes and say things for no other reason than to create shock waves?
Social media did not start this behavior, or increase it; it simply provided a novel and public way to display it. Narcissism was clearly not invented yesterday, kids. The word's origins are, after all, ancient.
Let me own up to my own narcissism, readers: I, like each of you, am self-absorbed. Every action I take is done with myself and my feelings in mind. I post on my blog so other people will read and appreciate my words. I write status updates on my Facebook that I think will make people laugh, and am thrilled when they get "liked." I scribble in my notebook for self-indulgence and catharsis. I choose clothes, cosmetics, and accessories that make me look as attractive as possible, and post pictures of myself in which I look my best so that other people might think me attractive. Every "selfless" act I have ever performed has been done to make me feel warm and fuzzy, and every relationship I've ever had with another human has been entered into with the end goal of feeling loved, validated, needed, just good. Every itch I scratch on my body, every adjustment I make in my seat, every food or drink I consume is for my own relief, my own satisfaction.
I don't think this is wrong, or bad, or scary, or the result of my generation's deplorable upbringing. I think it's normal. I think this is how it's always been, but we're too busy pretending like we care more about our gods, families, lovers, and friends to admit that this is reality.
Social media is self-expression, and while it's not for everybody, it seems to be addressing, in a small way, a need that billions of us have. What's the result? We can control what we present to others, and in turn possibly how they see us. Sometimes we make shitty, and even destructive, choices to that end, but the choice is ours to make and put out there.
I have been contemplating all these ideas for a while, but felt inspired to discuss them after reading and commenting on Chio's post on How To Stop Being A Douchelord on Facebook (or in general) (also because I think "douchelord" is one of the funniest words I've ever heard). I write about this because I think that the role of social media in our lives is an important discussion to have, but that the conversation need not be dictated by the aforementioned backlash - especially because my generation seems to bear the brunt of the criticism for what it has brought to light.
What do you think, readers?