“We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.”
– André Berthiaume
We often gaze in amazement at the latest piece of technology to be announced across every form of media we have access to. Apple release a new phone and for whatever reason that is now deemed worthy for being broadcast on news channels. 10 year olds are now playing Angry Birds instead of hide and seek. Apps and games designed for phones allow a new level of social interaction and gaming to take place. We, as a society, are reliant on technology for almost every single aspect of our lives and I won’t begin to argue that this doesn’t have its benefits…but what happens when our personality is dependent on our access to technology?
Have you ever seen The Matrix? Great! Let me use Neo as an example here: There is the Neo in the real world and the Neo within the Matrix (the virtual/programmed world). I’d argue that within our society today we have two versions of ourselves: we have the personal version of ourselves that people get to know through actual interactions; and we have the alias version of ourselves that the internet has access to. This version of us is an avatar or mask. I’m sure some would argue that social networking sites such as Facebook actually provide a more personal insight into who we are…but this isn’t true at all. Before I deleted the infamous information gatherer, I began thinking the exact same thing whenever someone posted a status or picture: “That person wants us to see that”. When you take this train of thought, you start to become fully aware of the real purpose of such sites: Ego-boosting. Facebook is a mask that people use to hide behind while giving the impression that they are being transparent. I can’t help but think of a scene from The Dark Knight Rises where Bruce Wayne when asked by Selena Kyle “Who are you pretending to be?” replies “Bruce Wayne, eccentric billionaire”.
Glancing back at The Matrix momentarily, you’ll no doubt remember when Neo first enters the training programs. Morpheus explains that it isn’t real: “Your appearance now is what we call residual self-image: It is the mental projection…of your digital self”. Neo in this virtual reality has his hair back, he no longer has plugs in his body and later on in the film he is dressed in sun glasses and crazy attire. The real world Neo is practically bald at this stage, his muscles have barely been used and he has rather grotesque looking holes all over his body. While Neo projects his digital self, is Facebook (for example) not our projection of our desired self? It is tailored to reflect the person we want people to see us as. Very little of what makes up our profile on Facebook is the same as who we are in person. This became all too apparent during the unfortunate attacks in Paris. I’d already amputated the little blue ‘F’ from my life but I still managed to hear about the trend where Facebook users were adding a French flag as a filter to their profile pictures. Now you could argue that it was for support or to show sympathy or a way to increase awareness but you’d be wrong. Ultimately what this trend boiled down to was just that: a trend. People weren’t interested in the deaths of innocent civilians; they just wanted to make use of the new function to update their Facebook page further. I watched as people commented on how many ‘likes’ they’d received from updating their profile picture with the French flag which in itself shows the true and ugly nature of this trend. This, I believe, is insulting to not only the people of France, but actually to our society as a whole. What sort of world do we live in where atrocities spark trends amongst the youth rather than discussion? I am generalising, of course, as not every young person is prone to such insensitive behaviour. We need only look as far as the various “challenges” that have graced their way onto our social networks. Remember the Ice Bucket challenge? This of course was meant to raise money and awareness for a really good cause (ALS Association) and I couldn’t possibly argue that awareness was not raised…however, what this largely boiled down to, was the opportunity for people to become part of a trend. If that works to help a charity, then great, by all means make use of such a technique. Let us not forget though, that far more moronic “challenges” such as The Cinnamon Challenge also created quite a following. The slightly disgusting aspect of charity trends is that people donate money as a form of social altruism i.e. they give to charity, post evidence of doing so, in the hope that it earns them favour amongst their peers. It becomes another way of showing your place within the social hierarchy because for whatever reason, simply donating money without people knowing about it just isn’t rewarding enough. This takes us onto the privacy issue…
Relationships, which were once relatively private, suddenly became another way to define who you are to acquaintances and strangers. Facebook’s “relationship status” ultimately led to the term “Facebook official” which came to be the defining moment in the modern day relationship, leading to likes and comments from people who were probably unaware that such a relationship existed in the first place. After a couple became “Facebook official”, friends were often exposed to nauseating photos of couples doing far from noteworthy activities or the regular expressions of love by couples who drunkenly met only a few weeks earlier. The worst of all these cringe-inducing acts was the lovey-dovey status updates where a couple, rather than share their emotions privately, would make announcements of love to the other through status updates which would often to lead to a reply from the other half. There is (as you’re probably well aware) a reason why this takes place publicly rather than privately: how is everyone going to know that you’re in a relationship if you don’t constantly remind them? It is nothing but another tool to make your friends envious and your ex’s jealous. Of course the relationship status (and all that entails) of an individual isn’t the only thing you can learn about them via their profile. Being able to “Facebook stalk” someone (another unfortunate term that is used far too often) also becomes a fairly normal thing to do. Prior to social media, if you learnt that someone had searched for you on the internet, you would probably feel somewhat unnerved. Now, it is seen as part of our society. Actually, not having a profile to be stalked through is seen as less normal that doing the stalking…what the fuck?
Facebook is just the hard-drug of our technological age. Its users are isolating themselves from the real world, while exposing themselves in the virtual one. All this in pursuit of that next dopamine rush when they hear that infamous notification noise or see the symbol appear on their phone screen. Rather than taking the next toke of a joint, users sit and wait for the pleasant and exciting sensation of being told that another person ‘liked’ their status or photo or comment. We’ve turned our lives into a human version of Pokemon, where the goal is still to “catch ‘em all”. Of course instead of fictional creatures, we instead round up as many strangers as we can and label them “friends”, often speaking to them a grand total of zero times. We force our private lives onto the screens of others like children making noise to get attention from their parents. Have we become such a self-obsessed culture that we can’t enjoy the company of those we are with, without sharing evidence of us doing so? Is social acceptance within a virtual platform really that important?
Who am I to judge the next step in human socialisation? Perhaps I’m just an old man in a young man’s body. Personally, as I’m sure you are now aware, I can’t stand this screen attached generation. I mean do we really need so many connections to apps? If we break it down very quickly, we have our virtual selves (Facebook); somewhere to share random thoughts as well as seeing what our favourite celebrities are thinking (Twitter); somewhere to share photos of our food and pets in an attempt to look like photographers (Instragram); We can hook up and find relationships via our various other profiles (Tinder); Share brief pictures with people, usually consisting of ugly poses or crude drawings (Snapchat); our messenger apps now tell you when someone is online and keeps you updated as to whether or not they’ve read your message (Whatsapp/Kik).
As I mentioned earlier on, I’d be crazy to try and argue that these do not serve some sort of purpose. My issue is not with the ideas themselves but more with the amount of time we dedicate to them. We use them like personal billboards or in some sort of weird attempt to feel like we’re on the Truman Show: a reality that I’m sure far too many people wish they lived in. So I won’t argue that social media in its entirety is a negative thing. Being able to organise events, share photos, contact people effortlessly and receive updates from groups/pages that you follow, is of course useful. The issue arises when the virtual world begins to step over into the real world. Social gatherings are often scenes of people using Facebook messenger or taking selfies to try and get a new profile picture. You’ll see people pulling out there phones to check to see if perhaps they just didn’t feel the vibration and might have a notification. We can’t go on a night out without sharing it with the world. My one, small, slither of hope is in the fact that we ditched text talk early on (at least for the most part). I have to admit with a great deal of discomfort that I am part of the generation that for many years missed out vowels and replaced letters with numbers (Wuu2? Was the famous one).
If the choice was as straight forward as being offered the same choice as Neo (the blue pill or the red pill), I feel that Morpheus would be shocked to discover that most of us had already swallowed another blue pill long, long ago. Why choose the real world when the virtual one has so much to offer?
This moment in family guy pretty much sums up the overall attraction that people have to sites such as Facebook.