Lies get traction. Beauty gets praised. Success gets celebrated. The truth often seems to get buried under a mountain of fabrications; deceptions beyond belief. After all, sincerity is scarce and scary. But what ever happened to the good, the bad and the ugly? What ever happened to our reality?
Too many of us, myself included, spend seemingly endless hours of every day scrolling aimlessly through multiple social media channels, polluting our consciousness with clouds of deceptions, injecting a steady stream of stress and anxiety into our lives, and projecting these falsities into the virtual world. We are often blissfully unaware of the truth that goes on behind the scenes of our smartphone screens.
In this digital day of utopian technologies, social media serves us with possibly the greatest contradiction of our time – the ultimate paradox. The immense potential that digital developments could provide is endless. The most under-appreciated benefit of living in this digital age is the borderless ability to remain interconnected with those in any part of the world; communication in an instant, no matter the distance. However, we have become so attuned and comfortable to living in a media-saturated world that we have misused this blessing that had immense potential and transformed it into what can now be said to be one of the greatest downfalls of our times. I think one the most fundamental issues with this digital age is the addictiveness of the media. It is like a drug. We have created this endless, self-perpetuating cycle of dependency on social media to the point where we are inseparable from it; we cannot live without it, or at least that is what we think. Digital technologies are the key to so much, ranging on the broad spectrum form our personal to professional lives, and so on. It seems almost ironic that this communication that we have come to so desperately require entirely lacks physicality – and so, I present to you the ultimate paradox. The communication that takes place these days takes place in the virtual world; there is a complete disengagement form the real world and from real life. We lack the personal face-to-face communication. We now live in a world where we require the digital but lack the physical. Digital developments like social media are transforming this age into one that is discontented and disconnected. We now experience so much social disconnection in this day of utopian technologies, so much so that our trajectory has changed; we are now heading towards a digital dystopia.
Social media has a strong hold on our lives, our relationships and our psyches. It makes us formulate this hyper-real sense of self, and forces us to focus on the self in a far too conscious way. We do not want people staring into every crevice of our lives so we create a deception, an illusion – we consciously create this self that we put out in the world through Instagram or Facebook, a self that we think others would approve of. Goffman (1959) created a concept known as impression management that encompasses our desire to control the impressions that other people form of us. And that is exactly what we do. But with social media, instead of portraying who we really are, we portray who we would like to be: our ideal self. I have a personal philosophy that tranquillity and happiness come innately from within when you distance yourself from the conscious creation of the physical self. We need a complete paradigm shift in order to re-establish our framework of truth, especially in the digital era.
It is scary to consider that because of social media, we all think we must conform to a singular narrative that is constantly being fed to us. We are fed this narrative that makes us believe that there is no alternative for us. Social media can be so poisonous. Because of social media, we have all of these façades coming into our periphery forcing us to judge ourselves based on the masked reality that is presented to us. And that is exactly what social media does; it masks reality. Too many of us, myself included, try to change our lives and our lifestyles in order to subscribe to this one perfect image that is presented to us. The inevitable failure to do this leaves people envious and upset, but in the end we are all just naive beings trying to believe in these fake lives. People curate their pages in the mainstream media to be so aesthetically pleasing that it lacks authenticity, but it’s important to be mindful of the delusions behind the aesthetics of Instagram and how deceiving they can be – cynical disillusions. Very few people are posting about their failures or even about their reality. The principal difficulty is being able to recognise and differentiate between what we see on our phone screens and what is in fact real, true life. But why is it that we spend so much time admiring these façades? Why do we try to appease the narrative that is presented to us? Why do we follow and obey so blindly? We need a change before we drown in the waters of the deep discontentment of the digital age.
The sheer scale and magnitude of mass followings that the media generates is too powerful, but with this power comes an enormity of the aforementioned danger. Social media should not make you feel insecure or question your worth, choices or life. But if the pages that you follow are supporting constant negative cycles, or bad habits, or eating disorders, or creating continuous distractions for you, then you need to come to terms with the fact that you just need to stop allowing it to rob you of your time and happiness. It should not make you live vicariously through someone else. One of the issues with communication through social media is that if you are not there in person, you feel like you can live through its stream of posts and stories and uploads. Living vicariously is not always a good thing; it precludes you from living the moment for yourself. You live your life perfectly unaware, oblivious, imperfect. It is unhealthy to feed your own loneliness or insecurities and self-doubts through social media, as you sink deeper and deeper into the abyss that is modern technology.
Ultimately, the failures of the digital era come down to the question of personal responsibility. The issue with blaming the social disconnection of this digital age on our society is that it displaces moral responsibility, precludes the preconditions for accountability, and deflects blame away from any specific individuals that may be responsible. And yet we are often so quick to place the blame on our society with a complete disregard for the basic fact that we are our society – it is us: we perpetuate the cycle of dependency. We all like to talk about how toxic social media is, and how the era of technological utopia is declining because of it. But it should serve as a warning for our future; we need to step outside of our comfort bubble of the mainstream media before the inevitable looming bleakness settles. At the end of the day, it comes down to one of the simplest, most basic economic concepts; if we were not demanding it, they would not supply it. So we need to take responsibility for our own actions. We choose to be online. We choose to follow the pages and Instagram accounts that we do. We choose to listen. We give it its power. We fuel the technological nightmare that is spreading like wildfire. We are the cause of our descent into the discontented disconnected digital dystopia.