So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about social media, and I think that it’s sort of a big thing in a lot of people’s worlds, I would argue that very few North Americans are without some social media account regardless of which platform. And as I’ve mentioned in past posts, I think it’s great; it connects us in ways like never before and allows us to create the story of our lives for the world to see. But there’s a future that I think social media moguls hope for and individuals with a yen for the good ol days and more traditional values fear. I’m talking the future where social media and digital connectivity has turned us into a bunch of hermits, isolated in our homes but infinitely connected in the digital world. I think that it is hypothetically possible, and many would argue we’re already on our way to it, but I think it is still just a little far fetched.
Humans have evolved to be social creatures, yes social media facilitates a more constant connectivity, but I would not be content to never see my friends. Even though I Skype people, I still enjoy the fact that I can do things with them – and I’m not talking play digital games on computer screens – I mean going out to the movies or dinner, heck even cooking at home and a trip to Target. I think that social media can supplement these connections, and in some cases for many individuals is the sole basis of the friendship. We all have them, the friend that we somehow friended online back in the day when we worried less about privacy and online creepy people, but they turned out to be cool so we kept them. We follow people on Twitter and Instagram that we have never met. I personally am a member of a group on Facebook, where I have only ever met one of the members, and we met long before she joined the group. That’s the nature of the beast. Doesn’t mean that’s the only way I connect, or the way I prefer to connect.
The other dark side of this coin is that we are putting our identities online, and all this got me thinking – what exactly are we putting online? I put a lot of my life online. Okay, you caught me, I put a lot of my cat and baking online with
the odd multiple selfies. Same difference no? But I put a lot of what I do online, and occasionally what I think or feel. I share myself in a sense. But there is a lot I still hide. Or not even hide, but that the internet really doesn’t need to know about. A lot that I never tell anyone, whether online, by text, or in person. There are my private moments, my quiet moments watching TV or reading a book and sipping tea before bed, the moments where I snuggle on the sofa and have a cat nap (literally, my cat naps snuggled against me, but only when I am only napping). I don’t really broadcast my entire existence. My entire being. Just parts of it.
It has been argued that we are inherently social and this is simply expanding on social media platforms, and that we are moving towards total transparency. Some even argue that having multiple identities is inauthentic, that you lack a sense of integrity. But this line of reasoning really just doesn’t sit right with me.
Psychology has long acknowledged the presence of multiple selves, the desired self, actual self, the should self, the self we avoid being. We also have different aspects of our selves depending on the context – who we are with, why we are with them, what we hope to achieve with the interaction, how we are feeling that day. I am a very different person when I am with my grandparents than when I am with my parents, and even more different when I am with friends or in class. I have different mannerisms and ways of thinking in a sense depending on who I am with. Some may argue that that is the same self, different aspects of the self, but that sort of dual behaviour set seems to be what social media gurus are arguing is inauthentic, a split identity. And maybe it is dual identities, psychology certainly has room for that – my identity as a student, as an athlete, as a blogger, as a daughter, as a baker, as a Canadian. I have multiple identities that fit together, whether as a melting pot or a puzzle I’m not sure.
And really this different selves, different roles with distinct mannerisms makes sense. Remember that movie, The Invention of Lying, where no one could lie until one day someone figured out how and a new kind of chaos erupted? While the concealment of emotions and thoughts can sometimes be a detriment, so was the interim when people would just walk up to each other and announce that they hated the other person or their tie. It was almost appalling.
Of course this was a hyperbolic scenario meant to show the bright and dark sides of the ability to lie. But just stop and think – if we were unable to conceal parts of our psychic experiences, there would be chaos, this dual identity, or only partially displayed self, protects society as well as our sense of selves. Yes we are becoming more transparent and I think next to nothing of posting my experiences and photos for the internet for others to observe and judge, but there are also private thoughts I protect, private bits of me that only I know, and that’s important too.
What the social media gurus and titans seem to be suggesting is that over time, as per the Zuckerberg Law, we will be sharing more and more of ourselves. Uploading our consciousness for the world to see. But this is next to impossible. I cannot type as fast as my thoughts. I cannot even always type in general. Yes I have my phone and I’m typically connected a fair chunk of my day, but I also disconnect from time to time; like when I run, or sleep. If I have to use an app instead of my Garmin I uncheck sharing options. That’s my time.
And we don’t exactly walk around broadcasting when we had sex, what we thought while walking to the bus stop, and what groceries we bought. That friend that posts their every thought, meal, and poop, is still annoying as all Hell. In short, we still value turning off, and we still don’t want to share everything with everyone. Social media experts argue that one day we will want to, or perhaps more terrifying – that one day we will be so transparent that we will be unable to hide any part of us.
Rather than the polished and photoshopped version of ourselves we present today, we will move towards such an intense drive for authenticity and transparency that we will be completely unfiltered, live sharers. What confuses me about their suggestions is they claim our existence, or as I have discussed in the past as our consciousness will be online. But how can that be?
Are these experts expecting our brains to be wired to the internet, an internal and biologically integrated version of Google glass? So that our ideas and thoughts are instantly uploaded without our consent so that there can be no secrets, PR surprises, no slow mulling over of new ideas? Every unkind thought exposed for the world to see what an awful person we are? Every dirty deed exposed?Every moment of every emotion, from the highest highs to the lowest lows?
I refuse to believe that would even get past an ethics board. We have issues with stem cells and gene modification, I can imagine they would allow such a blatant invasion of privacy. Nor can I really imagine anyone volunteering for that though I am sure there are a few narcissists out there who would.
I mean it would virtually eliminate crime of our every thought and action was broadcasted, but what benefit does this truly have for the individual? None that I can see. But it does open the door for the creepy Big Brother proposed by Orwell in 1984. A dystopian society eliminating crime through the overt theft of personal privacy.
Beyond this issue, I don’t understand how this could happen. I know that the media loves to act like we are already developing the technology to read people’s minds, but let me just clear that up – experts in the field readily acknowledge that we’re no where near being able to do this on any large scale. All they’ve done is matched brainwave patterns for a few select images to the viewing of those images. Nothing creepy and sci-fi going on. I don’t know if we will ever have the technology to be able to read emotions, they’re too complex. Yes we can know maybe where emotions are located, and what centers in the brain are associated with classes of emotions such as pleasure and pain, but we can’t know what thoughts necessarily accompany them, we can’t know the complexities, because we can’t read minds. And just as early psychologists such as Watson and Skinner realized – all we have is what people say they thought. And we know people can lie, or maybe just don’t know how to verbalize or explain their thoughts and emotions. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – we are too complicated to be completely understood.
I can accept that my online activities are horribly transparent, I think we gave up that channel of privacy a long time ago, but I reserve the right to a degree of privacy, the right to decide what parts of me I share without being accused of a lack of integrity. I reserve the right to protect my identity, not one that is observed online, the painted portrait of my not so glamorous life, but the one that turns out the light, that worries at night, and giddily jumps around the kitchen when no one is watching.
Sorry if that self being all mine bothers Silicon Valley.