It is the year 2016 and the world is going insane in so many directions in my opinion, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, if you are living in a city (which is most likely) all you need to do is look around at the ever increasing level of polish, coloration, lights and outright lies and deception. What we perceive as an object’s worth is growing ever farther from its utilitarian value. We crave to buy completely useless objects that serve only as a status symbol for the short amount of time before they break down and we have to replace them with the newer slightly shinier, yet ultimately just as useless, model. To an extent, relationships with people are becoming more and more so as well – with the advent of social media and greater than ever internet connectivity we have access to a wealth of information unimaginable just a few decades ago.
Let us consider what social media does to how we view others – we see the image they want to present to the world – most often, it is full of nearly identical pictures of smiling faces with empty looks with the occasional ‘inspirational’ quote or thought plastered in there for good measure. Who doesn’t want to seem intelligent and well read by simply pasting a popular quote by a celebrity? The social capital is based entirely on the appearance presented, no substance is ever considered. Posts sharing compelling thoughts are mostly ignored, for they are not as entertaining as the billionth cat video. Social media is a haven for people with narcissistic personality disorders for it gives them a platform to express every passing excretion of the mind or to plaster their face all over. For the more naive ones among us, there is the implied assumption that we are all potential social media celebrities and we can all find people who are willing to mindlessly scroll through whatever it is we post, ultimately feeding our ego to untold proportions.
As older forms of media are dying out and gradually shifting to internet platforms, we are seeing social media sites becoming more and more flexible in incorporating all our media needs. We are willingly placing all our eggs in one basket, so to speak. What we don’t ever see there or what we scroll past, ignoring it or just quickly remarking to ourselves ‘this is pointless’ gets left behind and who knows what useful information we might be skipping on. On the other hand, the majority of what can be seen there is a constant flow of ‘look at me’-type of content, void of any meaning or anything intellectually stimulating, merely a bragging contest amongst people who will show the best fake presentation of themselves to get the most attention from people they mostly don’t care about.
Considering all these dynamics, I have come to cherish face-to-face conversation even more than I did before due to its contrast with the sterilized and lowest-common-denominator realm of social media. When one isn’t trying to sell a particular socially-approved image of oneself, you can actually discern their genuine qualities from the ones they take on to simply appear more approachable to the widest possible array of people. For if you try to appeal to everyone, you will be mediocre to all at best. I call this phenomenon ‘conformity on steroids’ combined with the illusion of appearing as a unique individual. Ah, what could be more unique than being like most other people? We try to sell our personalities and lives as products to all possible buyers (aka viewers, friends, followers, subscribers, etc.) When you realize than no one is truly buying your product, merely browsing it, it all seems like a rather absurd carnival sideshow of freaks who try to amuse the masses, but with whom the masses do not actually engage with.
Leaving the realms of social media for a while, let us venture back onto the streets of a downtown modern city. What do we see all around us? Product placement, a myriad of advertisements, each with shinier and brighter coloration and with ever more meaningless slogans meant to indulge our basic biological drives so we can keep consuming. We barely care what we are consuming as long as it looks good, is fashionable and perhaps has a novel quality or two. We crave what is new for it is implied that ‘newer is certainly better’ regardless of whether that statement holds true in a particular case. We no longer care for utility before design – we even see it as a sort of a badge of honor to adorn ourselves with the newest of useless trinkets and gadgets. What is even more appalling, we advertise ourselves in the real world with such externalities in the same way we show a fake persona in social media – we are becoming walking advertisements ourselves.
Considering how much thought the average person spends of these issues and how blindly one follows the consuming instinct, I posit that we are but walking automatons, content to eat, drink, have sex and buy whatever looks interesting (regardless of whether it actually has any interesting use). Of course, in-group and out-group dynamics form around the purchase of certain things, feeding our need for tribal distinctions and identifying with a certain group. Not only that, but in our near infinite arrogance we look down on those not in our arbitrary group (or groups). Dreams and ambitions wither away in the sea of mediocrity and conformity – there is an ever lesser need to think bigger than your everyday musings.
Is it not a grand irony that in our age when we have all of human knowledge figuratively at our fingertips, we choose to consume endless streams of inane drivel of plastic narcissists or advertisers with no other end goal but to satisfy our base biological needs? What of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, what of self-actualization and becoming the best version of yourself? Well, it would appear that when base biological needs, along with security, social needs and belonging/love are fulfilled, barely anyone strives to reach self-actualization and break from the status of a generic biological automaton. I fear for the future of reasonable discourse and reason itself when our species is concerned. We may wither away in increasing consumption and stupidity until we ruin our planet irreparably and perish in turn. I hope we can leave our planet as a much wiser and results-driven species. Otherwise, my hopes lie in the advent of transhumanism – the alteration of our own nature by way of genetics, cybernetics, neural implants, and end to aging and perhaps even all disease.