Is Social Media Encouraging us to Perform Life?
We no longer know how to just be
Are we addicted to spectating the lives of others instead of living our own?
Are we consumers, creators, or both? And are we now living with an audience in mind instead of simply experiencing life for itself and not as source material to be monetized at a later date?
What to make of our constant compulsion to chronicle our every move, action, thought, or feeling?
And why are we so hungry for knowledge about how other humans do human when we are no longer able to converse or disagree?
If the internet has given us the opportunity to simulate alternate realities and alternate selves to try and figure out who we really are, do we know?
Or are we even more confused as a result of being several people at the same time?
While self-enquiry is necessary to mental hygiene, what used to be a private pursuit has become a competition playing out on social media.
Humanity is gazing at itself in the digital mirror, mesmerized and enthralled, unable to look away. And the more we look, the more we show.
The tug-of-war between curiosity and voyeurism is ongoing. How much disclosure is too much? And what should we do about all those human predicaments that are still stigmatized yet demand documenting so we might eventually pry minds open and create a more tolerant society?
The information revolution is doing a number on our brains. Many of us live life through smartphone apps, tracking every minute of every day and willingly sharing our every move and everything we see, eat, do, think, and feel.
We give our data away for free and it has become the currency that powers tech.
In the West, the surveillance society isn’t something the state imposes on us but what we are doing to ourselves without even being aware of it.
We can still make a conscious effort to be present and enjoy the moment without attempting to capture it.
Even not always having a device in hand demands awareness, so used are we to wearing an external brain on our wrist or holding it in our hand.
And yet, the joy of a bowl of homemade soup is more than a picture you can’t smell or taste or hold. The magic of vegetables chopped and sautéed and seasoned and boiled and blended and ladled into a bowl someone lovingly placed in front of you cannot be conveyed, only experienced.
It is love and care in edible format, something no editorial or photographic talent can ever truly communicate. In the same vein, the electrifying tingles of a hug that make your heart soar with elation when you wrap your arms around a loved one defy social media sharing, too.
Even the most heartfelt aphorism, the best lit picture, and the most conversational copy can never replace the firsthand experience of human warmth.
There are times when a human hand should hold another, not a smartphone.
Not everything that makes up part of our daily reality needs to be up for public consumption, feeding algorithms eating away at our privacy. At the same time, the internet is making the world a smaller place and tech can be the hand we hold across the miles.
The screen is an extension of the self that makes us all omnipotent and omnipresent; instant messaging can go a long way toward making our nearest and dearest feel loved when we cannot be by their side.
Although pixels and data packets can project our presence across the miles, they can never make up for our absence.
The constant connectedness of modern life is a quandary we still haven’t figured out how to balance.
The compulsion to share is often irresistible. Sharing pain alleviates it; sharing joy spreads it. But many of us no longer have boundaries; what used to be reserved for one-on-one communication is now on public record for the whole world to see and consume.
In a culture when everyone is a potential follower, a potential fan, and a potential celebrity, whatever happened to just being?
Whatever happened to a life of hands on shoulders, smiles on lips, and looks that melt our insides?
A life of whispered sweet nothings, hugs, giggles, and rubbed noses.
A life of beating hearts bearing witness to each other in person, without any recording of it other than fond memories.
Life and love are firsthand experiences, and not everything needs to be a performance that we broadcast to the world.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.