We are obsessed with the first-person because we live in a culture that emphasizes the individual. The selfie generation makes “I” the predominant jargon for almost everything we post on social media and talk about in real life.
Me-ness has shrouded our ability to step outside the self and see the world objectively. It’s not all about us. We view ourselves in the reflection of other people. The looking glass self is external. Writes Adam Price in defense of third person.
It worries me that we may be slowly losing the cultural ability or inclination to tell stories in third person. Why does this matter? Because, I believe, third-person narration is the greatest artistic tool humans have devised to tell the story of what it means to be human.
“I think therefore I am.”
Our inner-narrative predicts how we’ll act in real life. It controls the outer stage of actions. As narrators, we can be more thoughtful of how to talk to about ourselves despite the egotism reinforced by the dizzying pace of status updates. We find deeper meaning when we can see and express a world bigger than ourselves.
We constantly divide our attention between the first- and third-person points of view, between desiring the shiny object in front of us and figuring out what it means for us to take it: who else wants it, what we have to do to get it, and whether it’s worth taking it from them.
There was a moment when marketers thought words didn’t matter, that the future was speaking through images.
But then everybody’s images started looking the same. The Instagram feed looked like a giant pile of sameness where anyone could be a photographer and upload a beautiful picture.
Snapchat then ushered in the video game and all of a sudden, copycats followed. Facebook’s algorithm started to favor video. Instagram introduced Stories and Live. People could share their thoughts without a keyboard.
But if there’s anything Twitter shows us, words matter more than ever. The US president and the ‘rocket man’ tease nuclear war. While images and video are propaganda, it is words that beget action; they are volatile, easily copy-pasted and bent into echo chambers to paint fraudulent stories of intent.
If we want to awe someone, we choose static and moving images. But if we ‘re going to poke someone, we select text.
Words are game changers. Not only do they provide context to an empty visual, but they also control the inner-narrative that ultimately influences external decisions. Choose them with care.
There is a photograph coming at you every few seconds, and hype is the lingua franca. It has become hard to stand still, wrapped in the glory of a single image, as the original viewers of old paintings used to do. The flood of images has increased our access to wonders and at the same time lessened our sense of wonder. We live in inescapable surfeit.
Some people are on automatic pilot, competent but lacking a clear consciousness. They are drunk in their own robotic behavior, blind to the process in front of them. Writes Chris Frith in Aeon Magazine:
“Most of the time our perception of conscious control is an illusion. Many neuroscientific and psychological studies confirm that the brain’s ‘automatic pilot’ is usually in the driving seat, with little or no need for ‘us’ to be aware of what’s going on.”
Perhaps reality is too sober, especially when we have thirst-quenching irreality on our handheld devices. Is life so boring we prefer to die in the banality of a ludic loop?
Life is too short to relinquish our attention to the casino of social media’s variable rewards. If perfection is the dream of man, conscious control is too scarce in nature.
To learn to live and laugh again, to slow down like the tortoise. How on earth can we be sensible and reflective humans again?
It is a canard to think that math can’t fail. All you need to do is look at the way society constructs algorithms – from job and college applications to Facebook feeds to find out that sorting can be wrong and biased.
In the case of the 2016 election, algorithms did more harm than good. Facebook fed the internet silos with fake news. As Cathy O’Neil author of Weapons of Math Destruction puts it in a 99% Invisible podcast: “The internet is a propaganda machine.”
We’ve adopted the factory mindset of mass-sorting, leaving the anxiety of decision-making up to machines. Humans are pieces of data, waiting to be organized by the least valuable candidate or customer.
There’s too many of us and not enough time to make individual considerations. But a conversation around algorithmic frailty might do us some good. Making generalizations impedes the magic of a discovering an outlier.
The newest app, the latest iPhone — we make an excuse to spend more time with our smartphones. What can be perceived as self-absorption is also hypnosis, as the phone’s rectangular glow grips us into a ludic loop.
Social networks intend to get us out of a trance and sting us into experiencing the world; at least that’s what Instagram and Pinterest promised to do at their inception. Instead, our phones have our first, second, and third eye, recording memories so we can consume and forget about them again later. We are walking zombies, skilled without an iota of consciousness.
The smartphone is an arsenal of distraction, a computer, tv, stereo, and communications device propping up the thumbs of our hands. But it’s also the most liberating tool we’ve ever had. Used wisely, we can shape it to goad our curiosity, make new friends, and explore our creative instincts.
Social networks are specifically designed to keep us hooked as long as possible. No matter how aware we are of the entrapment, the exit door never tempts us enough to permanently leave.
Yet we ‘users’ are literally the ones being used and tracked so big brother can sell our data to advertisers. We permit cookies to follow our behavior all over the web, from shopping to googling health related issues.
While the internet offers us a marketplace of ideas, instead we find ourselves collecting resources and stealing other people’s opinions to reconfirm our own.
Rather than tapping into a common goodness of those who disagree with us, we pat the backs and converse with those who serve us their boilerplate bullshit.
Stuck in boxes, spied on and taxed, it’s no wonder the internet makes us so antsy we can’t get along. Writer Noah Smith puts it best: “15 years ago, the internet was an escape from the real world. Now, the real world is an escape from the internet.”
Social networks are unique places. They are no different than hangout spots; the bar and the coffee shop each contains its own set of memes and culture. However, using the same language from one into the other could make you look like a tourist.
“One user’s home platform is another’s foreign land. A point made by a subculture at home on Facebook might look funny to another on Twitter, which can read as evidence of a conspiracy to yet another on YouTube, which might be seen as offensive on Tumblr, which could be a joke on Reddit.”
Knowing the ins and outs of each channel comes with frequent use. And while most sharing is trial and error — virality is mostly luck — replicating content between environments is a bound to fall flat. Posting a witty tweet makes no sense in the feed of a Facebook friend who’s looking for something with sticky emotional value.
The old adage rings true: the medium is the message.
Good social media contributors are tweakers. They tailor a message to each network to maximize engagement, down to the file type. They may upload an image to Instagram but a similar video version to Facebook and Twitter, and a GIF for Reddit.
Social media is still the Wild West. You must pick and choose an audience carefully or risk being misunderstood, which happens to most people anyway, even on their own turf.
Photos get consumed and are promptly forgotten, not because the image doesn’t stick — it’s impossible to ignore the ‘facticity‘ of a picture — but because it’s erased by the next one.
In the age of Instagram, images are fodder for boredom. Scrolling fills time, inspiring an emotion and quick dopamine shot for the same time the viewer consumes it. And then we shift back to reality, looking at the world like running images on a wall.
Photography tempts the eyeballs to glance but when will it do something other than staring at its contents.
The only threat to the longevity of Facebook is that it makes people feel like shit.
Facebook’s relationship with its users, the product, is deeply psychological. It wants us to post whatever want, but all we end up doing is comparing our lives to other people in our own cocoons. We are ambiently aware of what everyone in our feed is doing.
The internet is a vast space of potential connectedness yet our relationships are usually with like-minded people. Our ideological bunkers reconfirm our beliefs, whether the content is real or fake.
The benefit of connectedness is proximity at scale — we can chat with a friend from the couch while Facebook surrounds us with ads like we’re standing in the middle of Times Square. Facebook is surveillance, and we give Big Brother the benefit of the doubt in selling our information to marketers in exchange for the ease of communication with so-called ‘friends.’
Facebook wants us to present our best selves online. It could care less about authenticity since it is our curated selves generate clicks and thereby give Facebook Ads a chance to make more money.
Facebook purports to be to the social network that upholds your real identity but its attention-based algorithm is psychologically damaging. The platform profits from fantasy, loneliness, and mimetic desire. Facebook persuades us to live the life we don’t want, thereby infringing on the personal liberty of making decisions that are key to our heart. Impressing others drains the soul of what we really want to do: express our uniqueness.
Facebook is the world’s biggest copy machine. It tries to box us in and disregard the person we really want to be. We are hooked on to its expectations of conformity and insularity.
Going to work to answer emails won’t make you a better emailer, just as another five minutes on Twitter won’t improve your social networking game. Email, Twitter, and incoming messages drain our cognitive fitness.
Identities are social. But not necessarily in the construct of how we or others see us but how we think others perceive us. External reflection is what philosopher and sociologist Charles Horton Cooley called ‘The Looking Glass Self’ theory.
“I imagine your mind, and especially what your mind thinks about my mind, and what your mind thinks about what my mind thinks about your mind.”
It doesn’t matter whether the engagement comes from bots or real people: Followers inflate our ego. Likes boost our self-esteem.
Social influence is a game of numbers. The more followers and interactions we get, the more credible we appear. Popularity promises self-worth.
But fighting for fame provokes a “potent cocktail of comparison for anxious people,” writes Laura Turner in The Atlantic.
“Twitter is a megaphone for achievements and a magnifying glass for insecurities, and when you start comparing your insecurities with another person’s achievements, it’s a recipe for anxiety.”
The entire social networking system is a jealousy-ridden machine where the most-followed have more say, despite the trifling nature of their content.
Online clout is the thief of joy.
Yet, while we continually compare ourselves to other people, social media compels us to try harder. With the right attitude, social networking can force us to pick up our game so that we can show the world what actually matters.
As much as the internet flattens the playing field and caters to niches, it is a barometer for judging the seriousness of our work. The social web is not all “artifice and spin.” Some people still want to make a difference. Connecting online can bring their dreams one step closer to reality.
There are many people who use their own media platforms to be the different one; to make a difference. Making connections online can bring our dreams one step closer to reality.