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Can People Really Be Themselves In Social Media?

“The world will be better if you share more.” That’s what Mark Zuckerberg claims. And it’s part of a general philosophy of many fans of social media: that they help us to be more “social”, friendlier, cooperative, collaborative…in other words better.

But what – in truth – is the default mode of social media? On the surface, one would think “social”. That can’t be true though, for no technologies have social implanted in them – by definition, human-social belongs to humans.

So when I dip into my Twitter stream, for instance, I see huge volumes of people saying nice things, quoting positive aphorisms, replying to each other with accolades. If you didn’t know any better, you might conclude these are conversations between people who’ve know each other for decades.

The reality of ‘social’ however isn’t all happy and conversational and collaborative. The truth of our human nature is complex and contrary. Anybody who is happy all the time, who never expresses a dark thought, who never stands up against what’s clearly wrong – or just plain stupid – is not being honest.

These media, however, do make us want to behave as if we’re all brothers and sisters. Nobody – except terrorists and people with childhood issues – wants these media to be anti-social.

So here’s the danger, the threat to our sociability: if the default of these media is to force us into particular frames (140 characters, video, audio, etc.) then how honest can we be – might we be automatically ‘phonyfied’ – regardless of our intent?

For if we are all brothers and sisters among these media, what happens to the elders? What happens to a civilization which no longer looks upward, but only horizontally?

I, for one, don’t want to see a world where everybody’s treated as if they’re clones, where nobody expresses themselves, where we’re all dictated to be social but in fact relegated to being alone.

The phrase itself – “social media” – should be a red flag. It’s not unlike Brave New World, or Orwellian Newspeak: the very words which claim “solidarity”, “security”, “community” hide the very nature of the State: discord, violation, fragmentation.

By inverting our notion of social media to phony media, we at least stand a chance of being who we are – which is what we want, right?


*This blog post was originally published at Phil Baumann*

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