On Social Networks

The social network; its vast and complex digital infrastructure, is at its core based upon personal connections. The ability to instantaneously interact and converse and exchange thoughts with another human being and establish some sort of lasting connection is what the whole concept relies on. So why do we subconsciously feel a desire to keep coming back to these networks? Why do they affect us when we so desperately try to let them slip by? Clearly there is some sort of internal mechanism promoting this, but what is it exactly? Some may argue that it is a sense of self-gratification while others may say it is a case of extreme curiosity; that we have a strong urge to know about the lives of others and we invest ourselves in them. That we tie our well-being to theirs and forces us to come back. While I do not necessarily disagree with these, I would like to propose a different view point; a view point that relies less on the concrete and measurable causes. Instead this idea is more subjective and subtle; performed unconsciously beneath the surface.

Jean – Paul Sartre famously said “Hell is other people”. With this he is noting how we cannot really know ourselves without taking into mind how we are perceived by others. Other people, and by extensions their opinions, are so important to us that the puzzle which is our personal identity is incomplete without them. Whether or not we as individuals like this reliance on others for identity, it forces us to be self-aware. Social Networking fulfills this desire, albeit not on purpose. As of this moment, no social network has been created with the main purpose of promoting a deeper, more personal sense of self-awareness contributing to an overall image. That is just not a thing at this moment. What happens instead is that so much personal information being expunged about ourselves forces others to form their opinions and share them. They comment on blogs, videos, photos, anything that you put online really. As we browse through the feedback of all those who have left an opinion we start to catalog them and try to reconcile them with the partial image we ourselves have created in our heads. This is all done without any deliberate, conscious effort. By nature we perform these tasks. Thus, since humans are always thirsty for a definition of identity, we keep coming back for more pieces to finish our puzzle.

From this we can also examine how social networking changes our emotions. In order to do this the superficial factors must be eliminated. Things such as excessively sad, joyful, hateful, and frightening content and interactions. We need to focus solely on expressed opinions and not the rubbish that clogs social networking. So by establishing that we need these opinions from others to finish our identity and that these make us self-aware, we can answer how it would alter our well being. The key to this is a phrase I have repeated quite a few times for this reason: being self-aware. By focusing in on ourselves, we see what we didn’t want to see. These opinions show us what we have been too blind to see. Our defects, our shame, our failure, our cracks and insecurities, our pride, our anger, our lies. The internal eyelids are held open as everything that which we wished not to see we are shown. In most cases the result is obvious. Depression. Dread. In contrast with the notion that we become depressed because we’re afraid to miss something or that some external force is breaking our limits, we become depressed because we are reminded of our fragile human identity. Not the external identity that we showcase, but the internal identity that defines a mind. However the mind does not despair due to some sort of personal attack. It despairs because we are shown how we have always been, but have ignored. That we are not as flawless as we thought. We are not as strong, as smart, as successful, as well put together as we would like to believe. And because we have been shown the fragility of our mind, our bodies take that perception and portray them to the outside world.

Ultimately, the social networking platform never intended to function in this manner. To show us these internal truths by providing us the missing pieces that we deliberately avoid but secretly desire was never the reason. Due to the fact that it accidentally fulfills this desire that we do not want to admit we have, we become internally obsessed. Obsessed because it allows us to see what we could not see, would not see, and sometimes even should not see. Then once we have been shown these skeletons of the mind, we despair because it forces our walled, internalized view to be extensively renovated. In turn this drags the rest of our mentality down with it, and indeed our physical selves. For better or worse the social network has shown us to be human, and we can’t let it go now.