That au gratin I made today looks terrific – I’ll just post a picture of it on Facebook. My kid did something awesomely cute – I have to put the video up on YouTube. I think I have a real talent with my camera – I must show people how good I am so I’ll just post that beautifully captured sunset up on Instagram.
I have this terrific idea and it makes me sound wise and profound – let me get my Smartphone and tweet this – my followers are bound to be highly appreciative. I simply have to let everyone know that I am at this swank party this evening; I am with this cool bunch of people – I simply must let everyone know: people here’s a selfie of me wearing this cute new outfit with a glass of something in my hand with the party lights behind me – this one is specially for my school friends’ group on Whatsapp.
There! You and I have shared, connected, swapped stories and our own personal wisdom. We use social media such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Whatsapp to express our feelings of happiness, satisfaction, anger, frustration, angst, despair – we’re ‘sharing’ everything about our lives.
Some of this sharing is the imparting of information, some of it is by way of a confession, a significant portion is a bid for sympathy – but a large chunk of what we choose to put up on social networks is simple showing off. It is a way to say Hey! Look at how pretty / handsome / cool / smart / clever / talented / lucky / efficient / straight-out wonderful I am.
There is no doubt that social networks are a powerful and highly useful tool that not only helps us maintain relationships but can also lead to positive social change. I am not disputing its many positive attributes; but somewhere along the way, it seems to have fundamentally altered the way that we interact with others.
Social Media is about Obtaining Approval
We human beings have a strong approval need – we need people to ‘Like’ what we are, what we look like, what we do – it helps with self affirmation, because our sense of self is inextricably linked with that people think of us. According to New York Times reporter Jenna Wortham, “Positive reinforcement is the most addictive element of social media.”
So when I post my writing on Facebook and people like a post or they agree with my thoughts, this is about me gaining that approval. Similarly when one buys a new car and announces this on their social media page, they do this to get people to ratify their choice. Comments such as “Good choice” or “that car is great value for money” helps one feel that they made the right choice.
Social Networks – A Tool for the Narcissistic
Social media is a boon for the essential show off. It seems like people today are more narcissistic than ever before. A large portion of what we do on say, Facebook is not keeping in touch but creating a persona of ourselves that we want others to see; a tool for self promotion. The proclivities of Ms Poonam Pandey on Twitter and elsewhere; her repeated promises (or threats depending upon your orientation) to strip are living proof that social media is a boon for the narcissistic.
Typically people post only flattering pictures of themselves, and ‘share’ only those portions of their life which they are proud of: a trim waistline at 40, a great new job, smart kids who win spelling bees and Maths Olympics – and here’s something new for Indians: the showcasing of a great relationship (status updates such as “14 years of blissful togetherness”, “my soul mate, my best friend” and so on).
We do this without hesitation and our friends are happy to bolster our vanity and our smugness with admiring comments and ‘likes’. We happily become mutual admiration societies for each other. And we do this with hundreds of others watching. We like this.
Social Media and Reality Shows – Is There A Connection?
Reality shows enjoy mind boggling popularity – this points to the fundamentally voyeuristic nature of us human beings. For some, following others on social media is a way to live vivaciously – as people follow reality shows on TV, they also follow the activities of their more sensational and narcissistic friends on Twitter or Facebook. We are all voyeuristic at these macro and micro levels. So reality TV watching is behaviour that is of a piece with other behavioural alterations in our methods of communications and in our interpersonal relationships.
But we do have to ask ourselves, has social networking really altered and our methods of communicating and interacting? According to blogger Geoff Manaugh, the drawings left on cave walls by prehistoric man were not much different than your and my Facebook Timeline. Both are types of “geoliterature left in place for others to discover.”
By – Reena Daruwalla