When I was introduced to MySpace in 6th grade, I became hyper-aware of my online presence. I thought that posting neat bulletins and the infamous MySpace mirror selfie would make me appear “cool” to all of my middle-school friends. Since then, social media has become an integral part in my life and many cultures around the world. My generation (Generation X) especially relies on social media to communicate and pass time. We are able to choose which pictures we post of ourselves, what we tweet, or who we connect with. It allows users to tailor their online profiles and image, regardless of who the person is in real life – e.g. Catfish. On the internet, we can be anyone who we want to be and present ourselves in whichever light we choose. Social media users have become so invested in online profiles and the web, that it is oftentimes hard to distinguish between oneself and the creation of an online persona. Personally, I agree with John B. Thompson’s suggestion that it is necessary to separate oneself from media to grow and evolve as a person; there must be a balance between reality and new technologies.
In my experience with social media, I notice that I tend to post pictures or tweets for the sole purpose of getting a reaction or feedback from my online friends and followers. One of the main functions of social media is to share thoughts and happenings, which makes me and other users pay exceptional attention to how they will be perceived based on what they post. There is a certain gratification from getting 100 likes on an Instagram picture or double-digit favorites on a tweet. In this way, social media has made me, as well as many of my peers, much more aware of what other people think. I have even caught myself asking my friends things like, “will people think I’m stupid if I tweet this?” or deleting a post that did not get an immediate response from my followers. By placing such great emphasis on appeasing followers and social media friends, it becomes hard to separate oneself from an online facade and evolve as an individual.
As mentioned in the article, A Life Lived in Media, I found Slavoj Žižek’s philosophical concept of media functioning as society’s “small other” that “directly embodies authority” particularly relatable while cleansing myself from media. I noticed the intense grasp and control that technology has on my identity and how social media feeds my ego and “the intersubjective cues needed to fill the void of the empty self” (Blank, Deuze, and Speers). During my 24 hour social media cleanse, I was more in tune with my own emotions and self rather than being shallowly consumed and limited by the opinions of others. In my spare time, I was not preoccupied with tweeting something funny or posting a cute picture; I was focussed solely on my own thoughts and self-formation, rather than being reduced to what my followers would or would not appreciate. Ultimately, my social media hiatus was freeing; it encouraged my individuality and I felt a greater sense of being and independence when I was separated from my online identities.
Rather than forming real world relationships and growing as a person, my social media dependency has encouraged me to live through the posts and profiles of the people that I follow; this has negatively impacted my interpersonal relationships and created a disconnect between myself and reality. When I scroll through a Facebook profile, I am able to discover everything I’d want to know about someone. With everything I could ever need at my fingertips, why would I want to explore the world or meet someone for a coffee date to get to know them better? The internet allows people to create a “malleable and fluid identity,” however, as recognized in Jeffrey Rosen’s article, The Web Means the End of Forgetting, the downside is that whatever we post continues to define us even if we evolve as a person (Rosen). Indiscretions, like posting drunken college photos, will be on the web forever, which is a very scary thought. Employers google potential job candidates to find out more about them; their online presence affects whether or not they will get hired, similar to the way I stalk Facebook pages and form immediate opinions of other people, sometimes even before I meet them. Although there is no escaping posts we probably should not have published, a Facebook study mentioned in Rosen’s article states that, “judgments of people based on nothing but their Facebook profiles correlate pretty strongly with … what that person is really like, and that measure consists of both how the profile owner sees him or herself and how that profile owner’s friends see the profile owner” (Rosen). In this way, it is scientifically proven that I never actually have to meet someone in real life to pass accurate judgment. In the 24 hours that I abstained from media, I appreciated that I was much more present with the people around me and I was not able to brashly judge a person based off their 20 drunken Halloween pictures. This result of my cleanse made me feel closer with others and form stronger face-to-face bonds.
The most intense outcome of my media cleanse was the realization that the constant connection that I have with my phone has also caused me to miss out on precious moments in my life. When I should be enjoying quality time with my family or friends, I am so involved in social media that I hardly contribute to conversation and am not actually listening to what anyone is saying. I hear myself just responding “mhm” or “yeah, wow” instead of consciously paying attention and engaging in two-way communication. In Paul Miller’s TED talk, he similarly recognizes that he puts up a wall between himself and others and is never 100% available when he’s engaged with new media (Miller). As Miller delves into his journey of “pulling the plug,” I see parallels between his experience and my own media hiatus. He brings up how his parents view the Internet as a “utility” in comparison to how younger generations thrive off new media. Newer generations’ lives depend on the Internet, which has made me feel absent in the real world. Looking back on last year’s Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family, it is hard for me to remember an instant that I was not connected to my phone and social media. During my 24 hour hiatus, there was no distraction from conversation and I felt much more in the moment. I enjoyed that I had deeper levels of communication with others that day and was able to give my entire attention.
Although it has many downfalls, there are also several redeeming qualities that social media offers to it’s users. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc., allow people to easily connect with one another and can be used as an outlet for creativity, expression and entertainment. Uploading pictures to Flickr or choosing a filter on an Instagram post have become art-forms that I definitely appreciate and constantly use, however my separation from these social medias has taught me a lot about myself and how I view the world. During my 24 hour social media break, I discovered that it is very easy for my reality to be obscured by my online presence, which confirms the idea that detaching from social media will foster my own self-development. In those 24 hours, I felt a deeper connection with others, more able to live in the moment, and less preoccupied with creating the perfect online identity. As seen in Michael Wesch’s video, The Machine is Us/ing Us, humans have created the web and we will continue to make technological advances (Wesch). While new media has influence on who we are, we are simultaneously creating new media and encouraging it’s influence in society. It is a cycle that sees no end and ultimately, I do not think that we can blame the Internet and technology for the shortcomings of humanity. From my own personal journey with technology, I have realized that new media is necessary to be apart of the functioning world, however, there needs to be a balance between reality and media. Since my 24 hour media cleanse, I have become more independent from my phone and hope to continue lessening my constant attachment to social media.
“A Life Lived in Media.” DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly. The Alliance of Digital Humanities Organization, n.d. Web. 7 Oct. 2014.
Miller, Paul. “A Year Offline, What I Have Learned: Paul Miller at TEDxEutropolis.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2014.
Rosen, Jeffrey. “The Web Means the End of Forgetting.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 July 2010. Web. 7 Oct. 2014.
Wesch, Michael. “The Machine Is Us/ing Us (Final Version).” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 7 Oct. 2014.