How Screens Fail to Reflect Ourselves
Social media is the wildest experiment in human interaction that a culture has ever witnessed, challenging all modes of prior communication, and providing a strange platform that is both personal and impersonal. Online ‘social networking’ is no new enterprise — it marked its territory on the lives of millennials in 2002 with ‘Friendster,’ and here we are today, swiping right (or left). We carry preconceived notions of faces and spaces without sufficient or critical judgement, all while claiming to better understand one another.
Celebrated writer Zadie Smith questions the stability of ‘connectivity’ in her 2010 article for The New York Review, reminding us of the need for reflection in the digital age. “We know that having two thousand Facebook friends is not what it looks like,” Smith contends. “We know that we are using the software to behave in a certain, superficial way toward others. We know what we are doing “in” the software. But do we know, are we alert to, what the software is doing to us?”
Facebook celebrated its tenth birthday last year, and although stats claim its usage is beginning to dwindle, the social media mammoth has left an indelible imprint – it has changed the way we know each other. It has allowed distant friends to reach one another (even though, we do have alternatives like Gmail and Skype), eased the distribution of party invitations, and often enabled its users to keep aware of breaking news. What Facebook (and Instagram for that matter) have also done is reduced human emotions, charm, witt, sensitivity, all of the fine characteristics that constitute individuality, into edited pictures and terse rants.
Like Smith, I’m just not comfortable with that.
Unfriending became as easy as a click of a button. And so, while we are all able to communicate more quickly and keep track of each other’s every inhale, our relationships have boiled down to ‘likes’ on Instagram and ‘swipes’ on Tinder. Our lives were not intended be lived online. We were meant to see, feel, and think about our globalized world by being in and of it, by experiencing its mercurial nature, and by immersing ourselves in its imperfect rhythm.