Humanity today is considered “plugged-in”. We have, and some claim to even need, constant access to our phone. Most people have laptops, iPads, desktop computers, and many other electronics on top of their phones with which they can access basically the same technology, and the largest trend within this technology is Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tinder… all the social media conglomerates that make up the contemporary lifestyle. It is considered bad business to not have a social profile in today’s economy, and individuals without these outlets are often considered social pariahs, or old beyond obsolescence.

This social media technology is a relatively new phenomenon that has no precedence to anything remotely similar within the entirety of human existence. That’s quite something. This massive overhaul of civilization within such a brief amount of time must surely have altered the way human beings behave, and I hope to examine some of these consequences.

The three events that alerted me to the issues I’m going to discuss are the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, the increase in clientele of art galleries and museums that allow photography for the sake of the selfie, and the capturing of newsworthy events in the form of the selfie.

Judging by the fact that I used the word “selfie” twice already, it’s pretty safe to say that the insertion of the ‘self’ is the issue. I don’t believe that it is an issue of selfishness or narcissism that is at play, as the term “selfie” seems to imply, because selfishness is about hoarding and social media is supposed to be about sharing. If the Social Being was selfish, they would simply be absorbing the experience of the museums for themselves, and would not be donating to charity at all. I don’t believe narcissism is fully involved either because what is behind the person in the selfie often has as much value as the person taking the picture.

However, the Social Being is not sharing anything in the strictest sense of the word either. If one were to share the experience of an art piece in a gallery with others, even over social media, they would probably find a better representation than a cell phone picture could provide, and would need to write more than 140 characters to properly convey the emotional response or cultural impact of the piece. If one sought to raise money for ALS, they would talk about the seriousness of Lou Gehrig’s disease, its terrible symptoms and possible treatments, and the need of special equipment that the donated money could be put towards. Spreading the news would be important in-and-of-itself, and pictures would be accompanied by articles by professional journalists that have legally binding accountability and time to do the research that would provide the complete story.

The old criticism of society was that we were reckless consumers who needed material goods in order to create meaning in our lives. We bought useless products when their only value was their accumulation. I no longer believe this to be the case. We no longer define ourselves by the objects we own, nor do we need to worry about Fight Club telling us that these objects own us. Most people can’t afford to accumulate material goods these days anyway.

But rather than shed the consumer nature and embrace self-created meaning, we have internalized the process and become products ourselves. We no longer accumulate goods to fulfill our lives, we accumulate pseudo-experiences to increase our capital worth. We want others to consume us, and to do that we use social media to extol our charitable nature, our appreciation of the arts, and our role as citizen journalists. Why else have a thousand followers on Facebook and Twitter if we only ever actually deal with a few close friends and family members in our everyday lives? The reason that celebrities and businesses maintain their social media profiles is because their branding requires them to advocate themselves in whatever ways they deem marketable, and it is this same process that individuals follow to maintain their own nature as a product to be consumed.

If we are not trying to sell ourselves as products, if we are truly charitable, cultured, and socially conscious, then why add our selves into the process? Why does allowing “selfies” in museums increase their clientele? Why do social causes like Movember and the Ice Bucket Challenge raise more money than the deadlier heart and pulmonary diseases? Why do more than a third of Americans get their news from social media, and what does the handsome Soren Bowie have to say about that?

We are not our social media profile, just as McDonalds is not their advertising. The Social Being is a hamburger patty covered in Vaseline in order to make it look shiny, and the person behind it is inevitably going to be a slumped-over burger with the lettuce spilling everywhere and making a God-damned mess.

The Social Being is not only a deception to others, but it is dehumanizing and degrading us into being products rather than people. The Social Being goes beyond objectification, because objects can at least be appreciated for their own merit, whereas products only have value in their marketability.

The obvious solution is to remove ourselves from social media, to engage in person to person relationships and forego the whole demeaning process, and this is a solution I would openly advocate. But for those who choose to remain on social media, if you remove yourself from the process, this may counteract the cheapening of your Self. Try to think of social media like you’re having a conversation with a person or a small group. When having a conversation, you don’t cram yourself into the other person’s face, or constantly make mention of your own involvement in the story. You’re already the one telling the story; that necessitates your involvement or interest by definition.  When speaking in a personal conversation, you’re also aware of your audience. You speak to the person or the group, not so that those around might overhear.

The most valuable thing a person can do is be authentic to themselves and to those around them. Social media precludes that.

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