Soulless Faces: An Exercise in Self-Criticism

imagesSince deactivating and deleting my Facebook and Twitters accounts some friends have sought me out to inquiry of my whereabouts and to see if I’m okay. I was moved and thankful to have a handful of people that cared enough to check in on me. “Why did I leave?”, they’d invariably ask. This is a personalized attempt to explain myself. So here goes…

It’s ironic that one of the most faceless platforms should call itself Facebook, unless, of course, one takes seriously the implied aspect of book-keeping. In my mind there is more than the obvious logistic innuendo where one keeps records of the faces one catalogues perhaps cross referenced against # of likes. Maybe that might occupy another blog entry. Today I find  myself engrossed in the addictive and what was an inevitably alienating experience. I won’t take that professorial attitude as one sitting in judgement of others since this is drawn from my own personal experience and may, in fact, speak more to my dispositional orientation to life and inter-human relations than anything else.

Originally this platform provided the means to be reunited and reconnected with family and friends around the world. Greece, Canada, UK, Australia, France, Denmark Sweden, Hong Kong…I could connect with anyone any time. I was actually privy to a live feed of their daily events, thoughts, and relations!!! Pictures, pictures, pictures…of everything! I soon followed suit; a wave of daily posts ranging from the ridiculous and light to the more heavily philosophical. Selfies (as they are now called), group photos amongst friends and my children, as well as scenic shots because my friends wouldn’t want to miss a thing!!! Soon…very soon…I came to see how this platform became a point of reference. People were tracking…stalking?…their “friends”…seemed to know far too much about their lives…but also tended towards the disparaging. “OMG, C posted yet another picture of herself..that’s 50 just today”, “G now has 200 cats!”, “M is single..no wait “in a relationship”…no wait “its complicated”…now it’s “engaged”…WTF? hahahaha”! And then, of course, let’s not forget all the drama on people’s walls out there for the world to see and draw their own fragmented insights from! The greater the outpour of posts, the more invested one tended to become (whether as invisible stalkers…you know, the ones that never post or comment on anything but are there watching …silently) or active participants. Often times I found myself checking for updates! In truth I rarely saw anything that I could not have read a day or week or month later, and yet I’d check that damn thing at least hourly!!!! Smart phones became, in this way, one’s life line. Some can’t part from theirs for a second, taking them to the bathroom with them, driving with it in hand, holding onto it as they “interact” with others, interrupting the fluidity of life unfolding for just another check or another post!  It was important to have a great camera too because one would have to immortalize every damn thing! We’ve cooked a lovely meal for just the two of us…but wait…click the pause button …let’s take a picture. Place the plates just so, angle the light, conjure a clever line, upload…okay we’re good…press pause again to resume your life. Soon sharing amongst Facebook friends wouldn’t be enough and we’d have to share with our Twitter, G+, and Instagram followers! Slowly the line between the private and public waned and though I may not have indulged in this practise all that much I did often feel invaded, my personal space violated and for a time I’d go underground and deactivate. Resurfacing as I inevitably would posts would begin sparingly; commentary occasional, but slowly as “friendships” were rekindled, followings re-established and a playing field resurrected,  these became regular and much care was taken in their design. Slowly I began to feel I lived more for my “artificial” audience than I did my actual one. In honesty, I don’t think the full force of this debilitating experience was more viscerally real to me than when experienced through others. I doubt I am alone in this. It was in seeing parties of people hanging out immersed in their phones, interrupting their fanciful lives only to crowd together posed for a “happy moment” that someone would immortalize and upload to Facebook, Twitter, G+ and Instagram, and then resume their virtual lives (now mostly to see if their picture got any likes or comments) that left me with sorrow. It was the desperation relayed through the screen as people would invite their virtual audiences into their homes sharing privileged, personal information that got to me most. It’s one thing to share all your food updates, recipes, work out regiments, quandaries, ideas, and more but it is quite another to draw the blinds in the hopes that your audience would  delight in your “happiness”! Somehow this too seems part of the industrialization of happiness. This incessant need to show the world that we are happy in the hopes that we may actually be happy. I won’t presume that anyone and everyone that posts these things is not (that would be ridiculous) but I think it’s worth exploring why one would want or need to suspend a beautiful moment just to capture it for a virtual audience, and why indeed one needs to inform a virtual public of one’s personal affairs. This is in my mind all the more complicated by the impact such behaviour often has upon the psyche and lives of others who may be either directly or indirectly implicated. Soon this becomes such a life-sustaining mode of being that paradoxically one tends to the narcissistic and hence self-indulgent craving for the ephemeral and immediate gratification that comes with “acknowledgment” (# of likes, remember?) rather than a more invested and loyal compass that is consoled by a deep and protective consideration for those who have been a real force in our lives.

For myself, I think originally it was an innocent desire to be connected with my friends (FYI I had few friends and only a handful I did not actually know in person) that later became something of an addiction or an affliction! I experienced this addictive force as a vortex spinning with ever greater intensity drawing me further and further in until I was dizzy with nausea and self-loathing. My psyche could not negotiate this virtual world; I can’t interrupt my life without feeling betrayed and estranged to keep up a virtual appearance. This is my issue, so I absolutely do not speak to this experience in order to make a general point. Indeed, I have so many loving friends and family members that seem to have found a comfortable niche which I applaud.

I know there is a much more interesting set of philosophical issues here to be explored regarding inter-subjectivity and binary distinctions between private/public, personal/impersonal, authentic/inauthentic and more. But not every moment is a philosophical moment! Make some room for the more personal! 😉

I will and do miss the warm and enthusiastic good morning cheers from a handful of friends! To all of you: Bless!

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