Let’s talk about Social Media. Let’s talk about online personalities. Let’s talk about Facebook and smartphones and always online. According to my sources, these things have become somewhat popular of late.
Discussing modern life connectivity invariably brings up two responses. The first:
1. OMG it’s GR8, I can tell the world what I had for breakfast and where I am RIGHT NOW and I can keep in touch with my friends ALL THE TIME, I <3 how I can share my cool thoughts the moment they come into my head through twitter
and then there’s the mourning and woe and much gnashing of teeth:
2. Oh woe! This generation of kids babysat by glowing white rectangles can’t tear themselves away from their screens long enough to enjoy what’s around them, to smell the roses and appreciate the world. They demand satisfaction and entertainment and instant gratification that they miss the value of introspection and reflection and creative boredom. I pity them for they are DOOMED to a lifetime of cretinous consumption and superficial socialising.
The first is true but pretty much completely misses the potential of being Connected, while the second is mistaken and missing out. Now, I’m not so intelligent as to have fully-formed original ideas spouting out of my head, so I will point in the direction of a long article which, by-and-large, had me nodding along with assent.
If you haven’t the will to read the whole thing, I’ll summarise it as follows: The obsession with being offline, and celebrating being able to disconnect, be it by abstaining from Facebook, putting away a phone, feeling secretly superior at keeping away from email, or proudly declaring distraction-free digital sabbaths for introspection are a fetishization of being offline. Rejecting the attention span-destroying and creativity-sapping convenience of modern connectivity for the retro and the vintage steams from Digital Dualism: the belief that the online and offline are distinct and mutually exclusive. That one can be one, or the other, but not both.
But, fact is, we don’t have digital dual personas, we have online extensions. Photos posted on Facebook were taken at a party where you actually danced with someone, and that lunch date you just had was at a restaurant recommended by a friend online and organised through the internet. When you turned your phone off and went sightseeing on holiday, you were thinking of sharing your great experience on your blog. As the author puts it:
“But this idea that we are trading the offline for the online, though it dominates how we think of the digital and the physical, is myopic. It fails to capture the plain fact that our lived reality is the result of the constant interpenetration of the online and offline. That is, we live in an augmented reality that exists at the intersection of materiality and information, physicality and digitality, bodies and technology, atoms and bits, the off and the online. It is wrong to say “IRL” to mean offline: Facebook is real life.”
Permit an illustration through a medium of which I’m particularly fond: games. This article was what prompted me to go down this rabbit hole, and it is as dauntingly long as the previous one, and very likely even less penetrable or interesting. In fact, if you ask me I’d say I don’t get half of it either (and I’d ashamedly surrender some geek cred), but the bit that is relevant, as illustrated through a pair of games a decade apart: