There’s been a lot of hand-wringing lately about how the Internet is impoverishing our minds, souls and relationships. But Matthew Gallion has written what may now be my favorite articulation of why we should worry about the web in his post on Social Media and the Real:
In my own estimation, while I do have some incredible relational experiences because of social media, its primary purpose for me is to make sure that random onlookers–the so-called “third Other,” if you will–will be aware of just how meaningful my life is….In other words, it seems to me that my desire to experience the Real often translates into a violent abuse of social media to validate such attempted experiences. So, I go out; I get together with friends; we talk and laugh; we drink coffee or beer; we go to shows; we go this place and that place, all around, living. And then I violently (read: somewhat against your will, though you do indeed choose to “follow” or “friend” me, which may say something about masochism) force the description of those experiences on you. I do this not for your benefit but for mine. By informing you of what I’m doing, it seems that I am, at least in part (and it is a part that I greatly resent) trying to make you jealous. If you envy my life, then I must be really living. Rather than simply recognizing what is Real about my life (if such things do exist in my life) and enjoying them, I can prove their authenticity to myself by telling you and assuming that you have deemed them worthy of an enviable life.
I can’t argue with Matthew’s diagnosis of how social media encourages us to narrate our lives instead of to live them. What he’s missing is the other side of the equation: how social media can actually immerse us more completely in our own lives by encouraging us to heighten our awareness of the moment….so that we can narrate it later. Whether social media takes us out of the moment, or appreciate and live the moment more fully, depends on which tools we use and how we use them.