I must admit, I use Twitter. And it’s a recent development, within the last 2 years. At first, I thought it was at best, a fun waste of time (which is true), and at worst, stupid and potentially harmful (which is also true). I use it as a way to communicate with some friends and post random thoughts that come into my head, whether they be attempts at being humorous or profound. I thought it an intriguing mode of social media interaction — this platform for “microblogging.” Over time, I have to come to see Twitter as a valuable source of information and comedy, if used in a responsible way. It provides me fast access to world news, affords a vehicle for art discovery & sharing, and is an infinite chasm of satirical / absurdist / ironic humor, which I do enjoy.
Concurrently, alongside Reddit, Facebook, etc., Twitter has no doubt become a cesspool for some of the worst we have to offer, concerning abusive social interaction often under the veil of anonymity. But just as I try to avoid those dark corners of the internet for the sake of my own mental health, I don’t want to go too far into that right now within this post. Toxic social media use and its own particular adverse psychological effects upon us as a society are well / documented / elsewhere.
Instead I wish to present and discuss this pseudo-battle taking place in our world in social media and beyond:
This tweet is funny, but it also raises a good point. I wish to explore it to its end here. It’s something I’ve given considerable thought to over my years of activity and observation of online (and offline) social interaction. Irony vs. Sincerity.
How do we usually interact with each other online? Whether it be twitter, instagram, or a group message — it’s generally humor, some form of irony or absurdity. Whatever the brand may be: jokes, memes, short videos, clever tweets. If it’s not humor, it might be a meticulous photo taken to present a certain lifestyle, or a projection of it. Or it’s a ‘hot take’ — meant to stoke dissension and argument among the hordes. There is also politics, puppies, the sharing of think-pieces on all manner of subjects, and everything else. But I am speaking in terms of the bulk of these interactions on the daily. And I’m not saying it’s all bad or meaningless or vain persay, just trying to square up with it as is, in general terms. We want some low stakes laughter, some levity in our lives. We want to feel good about ourselves and we want people to see what we are thinking or doing at a given time. We want to share all of this with as many people as possible, or maybe just those that we know will agree with or appreciate it. These are the primary reasons for the obsessive rise of social media usage (the boons of instant global communication and organization somewhat an after-thought). There’s a lot to unpack here — good and bad.
However, this is merely a facade. Social media is. We know it is, primarily. It might be a very comfortable one, one that fits well, one that we are used to. But it is one nonetheless; it is interaction which less than real. It’s a maintenance of the self, but it’s certainly not self-care; self-promotion? Yeah. Self-development? Self-growth? Self-love? I don’t think it is any of those (in most cases, in many cases; let that caveat carry through the rest of what I have to say here — this isn’t all bad).
I think when we log on, when we check in to our social media existence — we are all collectively avoiding something. It might be mere escapism or vanity, we might need to prove ourselves; might be masking pain under the guise of sarcasm, might be we’ve seen too much so we can only laugh at the absurd now, or maybe we have simply forgotten how to communicate along a spectrum of sincerity. And there are so many, so often in these online arenas, trying to find fault, or merely creating it. The fact is — a part of us enjoys commenting, and scrutinizing, and satirizing. So we deploy more resources to a person or their post in order to effectively parody it, than we do to organizing our thoughts into an honest expression to an actual friend of a problem that has been on our mind for a long while now.
And this very well might be necessary for many. We find escape and solace in here. Maybe that is the telos of social media — to escape, to mitigate the harshness of reality. That’s okay in a way, but it’s also part of the problem. No matter how you put it, we are retreating into something less real, and we are dependent upon it. I think we might rely on it — whether it’s ironic humor or selfies or bold, anonymous criticism — to provide something that is missing in the non-digital world. And there is the simple fact that we are very much more depressed than ever. There is certainly a correlation to where we spend most of our time, and our mental state. Why? What’s happened to us? What are we willingly subjecting ourselves to?
The twitter comedian, the satirical political analyst, the absurdist comic creator, the vocally depressed online person — they have their roles to play on social media. You and I follow them on twitter and appreciate and understand their content, their angle, the message. I don’t think there is any doubt, these forms of online social interaction can be valuable and can provide profound artistic presence — satire, sarcasm, irony, absurd commentary about life is cathartic and creative and is capable of conveying sincere insight. I believe that. Real struggle creates the grounds for this humor or insight to be born, and it’s relatable because it is real. I understand that and respect its power. We now have this incredible capability to connect and converse with people of widely similar spirits and dissimilarly enlightening worldviews. These aspects should not be overlooked.
But like everything else, there has to be the right perspective — what is real here? Am I in an echo chamber? Are most of my online efforts a practice in confirmation bias? Who are these people? Are some of these people actually depressed, isolated, in serious mental health pits? Am I? Is this the right way to cope? Is there a right way, should we be judging at all? Am I capable of being alone anymore without going mad? Or do some merely hit the right notes and are in fact exploiting the trend for the social currency of likes and retweets? And there has to be balance — why are we addicted to our devices and their many feeds? When does it cross the threshold into an unhealthy practice? Have I shut off from the real world and this “black mirror” is the only thing real to me now?
Speaking from my own experience, I certainly struggle with every single one of these questions. I guess what I am trying to get at here is — social media has become an essential foundation for how we interact now. We likely aren’t going back. Thus, a burden falls upon us to take full responsibility for how we are using it and who we are becoming. What’s happening to us? — I’m not entirely sure, and we need to figure that out. It’s been said before, I think it to be true: the tech isn’t bad, it’s how we use it. There is value here, with the right focus.
This bout between irony and sincerity, illusory echo chambers vs. objective opposition research, vanity vs. genuine self-expression , caring vs. not caring — for the online person, is a continuous one. We may have reached a fulcrum, in which a position held in the passion of sincerity is a radical maneuver to elicit double-takes. And it clearly extends far beyond the realm of social media at this point. The way I see it, it has become very difficult for us to interact sincerely, on all levels. “Us” being the online community; this ‘Online’ mindset is not something so easily relinquished when stepping out into the light of the real world.
When something like irony becomes the only familiar avenue for discourse, or where everything can be a joke — then what are we left with? I believe, we are left with a lot of people who don’t give a damn. Clever people who ‘can’t be bothered.’ Our online presence a wryly hardening mask to unarticulated vulnerabilities. The cesspools and the injustices of the world win out upon an apathetic mass of a generation that consistently jokes about wanting to die. Or maybe, I am being much too harsh in my assessment. Maybe we are left with folks who are lost in a way, who simply don’t know how to give a damn? In this hyperactive, interconnected modern arena where everything is on display for relative comparison and the worldviews of the worst of us easily viewed — there is a moral degeneration taking place. Cognitive dissonance is requisite to get out of bed; gotta be on my island because the waves out there are too risky. People lost hope, so they shitpost memes. idk.
I’m not sure. I don’t know really what I even mean; this is all more of an intuition than any kind of organized thesis. What I do know: I am trying to be more sincere in my own life. I am going out of my way to give a damn about things that are important (ethics, politics, education, art). When I speak, I try to be honest with people about what I think. This is difficult for me, for sure, but I think it is the only way I can proceed. I will try to urge those around me to do the same, to be mindful of our interactions and appreciate whatever it is each of us are trying to create for ourselves. This blog is certainly a crux of this effort, telling stories and speaking my mind about things that matter to me.
And I don’t mean to say don’t laugh at those memes or look upon those absurdist tweets anymore, or delete your social media accounts (although this might be objectively a good idea) — just please engage this digital world with the right perspective. I think we all have a choice, to be or not to be… sincere on the internet, sometimes. Here’s to giving a damn for a change. ~