This is a sequel entry to my Soulless Faces: An Exercise in Self-Criticism. That original monologue entered the public arena, not unwittingly I might add, in an effort to simultaneously negotiate a crisis of identity brought on by my experience with Facebook, that would at the same time create a public space for its appropriation, itself not susceptible to potential virtual contaminants. Not all social media are created equal!
Now some may protest that it’s not the fault of Facebook that I came away feeling so existentially compromised for we are autonomous beings with the freedom to choose which comes with responsibility. So it’s no good blaming anyone but myself. In part I agree. But I’m no Kantian when it comes to morality. Autonomy is not found in a vacuum, nor is it built on sand; autonomy is always relational. It is acquired within an acknowledged field of intrusion, over-against, or at least with or amongst others in the world. So we always choose within a playing field and I have the sense that I, and perhaps many others, inadvertently superimposed the field of actual life onto this virtual life. I find it is akin to engaging that anonymous bartender, or taxi driver where you imagine a protective shield of silence to vent and share your inner most concerns, and walk away feeling completely understood. And yet, like any confessional space it relies on anonymity, and so when you return to your “anonymous” bartender and book a ride with your “anonymous” taxi driver, you come to see a “friend”. “Friends” on Facebook are sometimes that “anonymous” taxi driver. Friends, however, are those people that are part of your life; they don’t just drop in and leave on a whim. Life plans are built around these people, decisions include and impact their lives, your direction is routed and re-routed to accommodate them because they’re not just venting or confessional partners. Intimacy is built not simply on sharing private information – it is in being intimate through everyday engagement. Intimacy is tied up in the understanding of oneself as authentic. Sartre argues that inter-human relations are inherently frustrating and with that I would not disagree, albeit for semi non-Satrean reasons. Authenticity is not found in some ultra-earthly zone or dimension. It is not discovered when you peel away all that has been acquired, as if the self is a fruit with some delectable pit at its core. Authenticity is not gained in a moment and held for eternity. Though some have gained eternity felt in a moment! 😉 It is a constant process that motions towards unsettling oneself, tearing away from all that has nestled up close which designates that place of comfort in which one feels most welcome or “at home”.
How are inter-human relations authenticated then? I don’t know. That’s the shorthand answer. The longhand answer is, maybe I have a sense of what doesn’t. If we begin with the understanding that self-understanding is fashioned upon discovering oneself in context and is constantly on-its-way, then ossifying, sterile, unilateral relations are the enemy. Congenial (Face)friends, often our anonymous bartender, are not our friends. Authentic inter-human relations are confrontational, they are disruptive, awakening oneself to stagnation, and opportune self-transformation. Friends can sometimes mouth our unspoken words, caress our fragile egos and some of us could hibernate there for a lifetime. Does it get any better than this? Hahahahaha The pleasantries of congeniality sometimes bare teeth, often with the over-indulgent (Facebook)users, who open their “bedrooms” blinds, eager to share what in one’s actual or real life would remain private, so that when “cartoonized” or caricatured, they are left feeling trampled, their egos compromised, and angered at being misunderstood. And yet, I would contend that neither of these polar relations are inherently in-authenticating (well I’m still on the fence regarding the latter scenario…but that for another blog, on another day). There is nothing inherently compromising about friends being kind, supportive, and agreeable. The problem lies elsewhere. For these friends are one-dimensional, if you will. They are only ever experienced on your flat screen, and engagement is often more imaginary than real. For those that know you not in your real, invested, multi-layered, historicity can speak a kindness in earnest response to a fragmentary moment, or in virtual tongue, to a Facebook post, but it is one’s own mistake to presume a residing friendship. So that when many of the same friends make judgment on the presumption of friendship, and hence on the presumption of “knowing” oneself, existential anguish can overwhelm. I doubt that Nietzsche would have anything but disdain for those who walk away from such platforms when public scrutiny borders on abusive; misplaced blame comes to mind. But empowerment and riding on the momentum of self-appropriation also does not invite swimming in a cesspool of invasive and presumptive characterizations either. 🙂
Still this social space is in the imagination of many more real than their actual lives; or rather, their actual lives become more meaningfully lived with the facade of public interest. 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. Hey, how ’bout a quiet evening at home..but we’ll let every know, right?….they’re waiting…quick, stop your fidgeting, sit still, comb your hair, look casual…good….there…click…upload. Out on the town….my friends will want to know where I am…check-in….hey wait, I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m all alone…tag friends…phew…good….persona in tact, now let’s get on with the festivities. Home alone? That won’t do. Snap…clever line….see I’m never really alone. Damn look at all those likes!!!! Let’s mix things up a bit. A pic with my dog; my cat; my fish, Martha, walking; running; skipping; cycling; skiing; swimming; in (casual 😉 ) loving embrace; on the phone…computer…the can (dude, really!!!!??), sleeping!! Hey, say what?! See what a full, varied, interesting life I have!!!?? Secretly I wonder who is ever around with the patience to snap all of these uneventful events?!! A, the mysteries of life! Perhaps these are those greater mysteries of life people are always haggling over! Still, not all social media are created equal – compare the anonymity of Twitter, and G+ (though again these platforms are distinct in important ways) – I’ll give you that; but then not all users are created equal either. To say that everyone is equally vulnerable to this addiction is no different than saying everyone is equally vulnerable to alcoholism, gambling and drug addiction. Certain personality-types, life circumstance, not to mention issues of self-appropriation and conceptual frameworks make all the difference – point is, this needs to be negotiated. (Disclaimer: it would be disingenuous to disavowal any truth to these mysterious illustrations, but that is not to say this fragmented extraction of such moments could not with equal zeal be applied to any one of my pics and posts; the point being, as this blog intends, that we are more than our social media parts. So, though amused (as I often am with myself, especially when I am the object of my own criticisms), these are nothing more than caricatures of possible hidden truth. Chill! 🙂 )
Facebook friends march to their own drummer, and it is in learning to keep in step that these relations can be appropriately negotiated. I have found my rhythm, and my Facebook place amongst Facebook friends and those blended relations that move between real and virtual worlds. Mostly, I have learned to leave my real friendships at the virtual door. Which is not to say that some of my friends are not my friends but that nothing is rehearsed on this platform that does not belong on this virtual stage. It is my sense that those out-of-step will relegate their indulgent tendencies to platforms such as Twitter, G+, Instagram and more, leaving a trail, now within a confessional space explicitly anonymous, with the hopes of evading their cartoonized personas and existential anguish, if only because their friends and their friends shall remain silent. I have found a place amongst my Facebook friends but have nonetheless opted out of its use, and long held a tiny niche for virtual (double entendre….hehehehe) engagement on Twitter, but it is with acknowledged risk that I do so. 🙂
Disclaimer: Some of my Facebook friends have come to be wonderful friends to me – they stood by me in times of peril (you know who you are); and some friends lost in the vortex of their virtual lives vanished without a trace. This just to say that the technology of self has become an increasing complex affair and this brief exposé is nothing more than a personal anecdote that some may find insightful.