Monday, July 30, 2012

The Fix is In - Social media as a lifestyle

A few years ago, I was speaking with a friend of mine about the new guy she was seeing.

“It’s going really well.  He’s awesome.  It’s not quite facebook-official yet, but it’s good.”

“Oh, is that how we know it’s legit?”

“Yeah, basically.”

This was the first time I heard the term facebook-official, and was a few years before I went ahead and joined the website myself.  Since then I have become a connoisseur of commenting, uploading, posting, and basically exploiting any private thought I have.  And I’m not the only one.  Everybody’s newsfeed within facebook is inevitably filled with people updating the entire internet about what they are about to have for dinner, how work was that day, or any other inane qualifier about their life.  That is, unless you don’t know how to hide posts from people that suck and are afraid of hurting their feelings by de-friending them.

It is this constant urge to update and share that strikes me as odd.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel superior to anybody because of things like this.  Granted, I don’t post inane shit such as, “Going to the grocery store!  Those lines sure make me mad! Grr hahah lol”  But I still check facebook and Twitter frequently and I think my motives are the same as the people that do post stuff like that.  Basically, it comes down to the fact that we now live in a society with constant gratification.  Text messages, instant messages, e-mails; we are always reachable.  We are always available.  Smart phones demolished all need to wait for anything.  We have the extent of human knowledge in our pockets at all times.  Along with that, we have access to almost everyone we’ve ever met at all times through social media.

If you start a new job, go to a party and meet new people, or any situation where you learn someone else’s name, you’re going to have friend requests waiting for you.  It’s almost as if that friend button in facebook is the end-all barrier between “acquaintance” and “friend.”  Does this limit real-life social interaction or does it augment it?  I think it does both.  We know more about people, we keep in contact better with people, we can converse with people more easily, but it’s impersonal.  It’s second-hand.  It’s the difference between reading a book and seeing the movie.  Sure, the movie may be quicker, but the book is always better.  Except for maybe Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fight Club.  Those two contend with the printed version. 

I think the motivation for this is our constant need for affirmation.  We need to be constantly reminded that people like us, people pay attention to us, and people care about what we’re doing.  That’s why people say shit like, “Work was rough today!  Whew!  Can’t wait to fire up the grill! :)”  They are looking for people to respond and ask what happened at work, to express envy about their meal, or to offer to join.  This is also why we post links to other sites that let people know what we’re listening to, which articles we’ve read, and what we’ve “liked” on other sites.  We want to build a community beyond what we have available to us in real life.  In a way, it’s much like Second Life or World of Warcraft.  You probably think of those people as nerds, right?  Well, sorry buddy.  You’re the same.

Even people that have a lot of solid real-life relationships feel the need to update everyone else about what’s going on it their lives.  So it’s not a lack of contact that creates the desire for these things.  It’s an insatiability.  A greed.  A constant need for more.  Perhaps, in a way, having people read and comment on your status updates (or, really, your life) gives you the feeling of being a celebrity.  We all want people to pay attention to us, to care about even the tiniest minutia of our day to day lives.  That way, we don’t feel like we’re wasting it.  If other people are paying attention, then we must be doing something right.  It’s the same thing as the end of the first Nightmare on Elm Street.  Everyone stopped paying attention to Freddy and he died.  That’s what we’re afraid of. 

“If a tree falls in the woods and nobody’s around to hear it, does it make a noise?”  Similarly, “If we accomplish something in our lives but we don’t have anyone to share it with, does it even matter?”

Or it could be the whole marijuana-as-a-gateway-drug concept that primed us for the full-immersion of facebook.  We took a small hit off of Friendster and liked the extra contact.  Then Livejournal came along and we shrugged our shoulders and decided to sign up.  That had us all ready for when Myspace came around.  By that time we were fiending pretty hard for some grade-A, black tar social media to mainline directly into our fucking heads and facebook showed up causing all of us to sit in our rooms alone, in the dark, and use for hours at a time, neglecting actual contact for our fake zoos and gardens and status updates and instagram apps.  Now we are in a pit of dependence so deep that we can’t see the top, can’t bring ourselves to delete our accounts because that feels like the equivalent of deleting our e-mail accounts and throwing away our cell phones.  And that can’t happen, right?  We’ll be lost.

That’s a sad fact, but still a fact.  Twenty-five years ago, nobody had cell phones or e-mail, let alone social media.  And they got along just fine.  But now you can’t get through a day without making use of these items.  Would you be able to do your work without e-mail?  Would you even remember anybody’s phone number without your cell phone?  If so, you are an aberration because the rest of us idiots are dependent upon machines to run our lives for us.

And that’s just how it is now.  We have built a society based on the help of machines and electronics and now we’re fully dependent upon them, not just functionally, but emotionally.  I occasionally come across people that don’t use facebook (people over forty are exempt from all of this, by the way.  Many of them use social media, but I don’t believe they have the same connection to it as we do since they lived most of their lives before all of this shit came around) and I find myself admiring them, in a way.  I think it says something about a person to resist this blackhole that the rest of us have fallen into.  I say “blackhole” because it is tough to get out once you get in it (except you can’t get out of a blackhole, so maybe quicksand is a better analogy).  It’s silly, but it’s true.  Social media just helps people remember that others care about them, and who doesn’t like that?  

1 comment:

  1. I don't have a facebook and I'm under 40, so that makes me cool right?