As I reflect upon how I carry myself, and how others see me, I think about my Facebook profile. After all, most people know me through what I display on social media, for those hundreds of online friends of mine hardly, if ever, talk to me in person. My reflection on how I carry myself on social media, and how others carry themselves on social media, has brought troubling thoughts:
Like the masks we wear constantly in public, the facades which hide our true selves and the baggage within, social media serves as a platform to display to others what we selectively want them to see. Yet, unlike our public pretenses, which can at times falter or be seen through, we have at our total discretion what appears on our social media profiles. Others have no opportunity to see our embarrassing or awkward moments, nor our failures and worries, unless we explicitly choose to post and display them. Thus, our social media profile is, in a sense, a highlight reel, our best display to others of what we want them to see when they look at us. It is a canvas of narcissism, of superficiality. Why display things to others which would reveal our true vulnerability, our true feelings, emotions, and fears? Why expose those self-perceived weaknesses to others in such a public setting? We choose instead to show how exciting or amazing our lives have been, how interesting our ideas are, how tiresome and troublesome our trivialities may be. I personally choose to post inspiring quotes or interesting facts, things which entirely deflect the reality of who I am and portray instead the ideal of who I want others to see me as.
I know that my hundreds of Facebook friends see what I post. I know that I see what hundreds of my Facebook friends post. I worry that social media is creating the illusion of knowing someone, without truly knowing them in the slightest. Indeed, because of social media, one need not even personally interact with someone to think that they know them. We are increasingly content to be ‘friends’ with hundreds of people on Facebook, without truly being friends with any of them. We are, in turn, increasingly content to limit the boundaries of those friendships to what we see in others’ online posts and pictures, as opposed to taking the time and energy to personally get to know them. Though we are connecting with each other on an unprecedented scale, we are simultaneously being alienated from one another at an equally unprecedented rate. We now gauge popularity on the amount of likes and comments we get on our statuses, as if an online affirmation of a passing thought is enough to think that others understand and approve of us.
Herein lays the farce of Facebook and the farce of Facebook friends. It is limiting our interactions with and perceptions of each other by creating norms of superficiality and narcissism, by limiting the truth of who we display ourselves to be. More troublesome to me is the manner in which it is alienating me from the people around me, and vice versa. I have hundreds of Facebook friends, though I’ve only talked to only a few dozen of them recently and a dozen frequently. The vast majority I have, except through seeing their posts and pictures, had no interaction with whatsoever. Yet I can see their posts and pictures. I can keep current with what they are doing, or at least what they want me to think they are doing. Why bother spending energy to ask about their lives, to explore the depths of their personality and experiences? Why care to tangibly connect with them at all, to build a rapport, when liking one of their statuses does as much? I acknowledge that I am a product of being raised with social media, for these questions, while admittedly being used to prove a point, nonetheless have elements of truth in them for me. I can only imagine the same is the case for others when they think of me. I have been told numerous times that people love the statuses I post, that they interest and humor them. How much more real would our friendship be, if they instead told me that it was I who interested and humored them? Cody Knipfer has, for many people, become manifest in the statuses he posts. I am a profile page. I am a profile picture. In this social media generation, I fear I am becoming nothing more.
My generation is the first social media generation, and has been raised in this reality. I wonder and worry how this will shape the way we perceive and conduct our relationships in our coming years. Will my close friends, with whom I share something beyond the farce of Facebook friends, equate my posts on Facebook with the real progress I am making in my life? Will they bother to care? Will I bother to care about them? As I tailor my profile to conform to the standards of how I want others to see me, as I try to make myself as attractive upon it as possible, I am actually limiting the truth, the depth, of my person. At what point, as I continue to use social media, will my true self stop being so, and start becoming the superficial façade Facebook would suggest?