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I love the fact that I was born in 1980–that I grew up mostly in an analog world, but was young enough to adapt quickly to the digital age; that I remember distinctly the anticipation while waiting for a chance to play Oregon Trail on the Apple 2E’s at school, that I remember the day my dad brought home a Nintendo, that I remember renting a VCR, that I watched email and search engines and social media happen before my eyes. But I don’t love how society has morphed with the advent of social media. I don’t want to sound like an old fogey lamenting the good old days (that never were)–I understand that the world and society changes; our minds and our social mores adapt. But for someone of my personality, Facebook represents some fairly egregious social shifts.
The “Shiny Outside” Syndrome
A professor in college used to admonish us to not berate ourselves for being as together as everyone else, because what we see are their “shiny outsides”—inside, everyone’s a little broken (unless they’re vapid; in which case, why would you want to be like them?). Facebook magnifies this scenario—you feel obligated to post happy, successful stories and photos. No one wants to hear about your 11pm bout with existential dread. So we never say it. And thus, the falsehood of an entirely cheerful life is perpetuated—plastered over our feeds. Individually, we know we aren’t like that, but now, with screen evidence, we can’t be sure anyone else isn’t. It creates an endless cycle of inferiority, questioning, and down-ward motion.
The Ephemera of this Digital Life
In the advent of mass public education and continued ease of publishing, the 1800’s (and into the 1900’s) saw an explosion in printed ephemera—pamphlets, brochures, broadsides—papers meant to be read and tossed. It was a big collecting phenomenon a few years back (maybe still is). The internet mimics this trend, but on a much larger scale. Anything can be written and deleted in a day. I have written and deleted and edited many times on this very blog—but when I do it, I am striving towards something substantial—the wording that is what I want to say and that will last. On Facebook (and other sites, I am sure, but I am only on FB), all posts are ephemeral, especially now that the format is conducive to a reductive timeline feed as your homepage. If no one commented, no one saw it. If people commented, it’s gone within a few hours, shoved down by new “news,” like the simoniac popes pushing each other further and further into the hole in the Inferno. Ever since I sat next to my brother on his deathbed, I have felt even more keenly the waste of ephemeral interactions. Being here means something, whatever that is. And I don’t think the meaning is found in blink-and-you-missed-it status updates.
The crux of the matter for me, though, is that nothing is special anymore. That news that my particular friends used to save for me and their other special friends? Now it’s broadcast to hundreds of people in a second, instead of saved up for a phone convo or a coffee date. That joke that could be between just us, that we can recall years later and incorporate into another conversation? It’s posted and forgotten in a minute.
Why does everything have to be public or be meaningless? I am baffled that this doesn’t seem to bother anyone else.The words I say mean things to me, and I only say them to those I believe will treasure the meanings. I go so far as to not speak unless I’m sure someone is listening. I know that sounds overly dramatic, but I have literally had people walk away while I am speaking, and posting on social media–shouting into the void–and hoping for a Like, a laugh, an anything–is this feeling to the nth degree. Those of us who used to render ourselves visible to those who truly care are rendered invisible once more, by algorithm.
Am I really that unusual? Or are we all just allowing ourselves to adapt to a smaller and smaller box?