It started as individual voices in the wilderness. We bonded around our interests. We used the technology to communicate across the real distance between us, to generate ideas, to push our needs forward. We blogged and we podcasted and we encouraged one another. We were misfits that found our community, our tribe, our people.
Eventually the businesses noticed. They began using us to market to ourselves. The goal of marketing is to create a need, and in this, the marketers barely had to do anything at all. We were all so very needy. We needed to be Liked. We needed comments. We needed validation.
We’re all trying to find some sort of contentment with who we are and how we live our lives. Once, we were told that happiness did not come from doing what everyone else did. These days, the voices telling us how to be happy are everywhere, thanks to our connectivity. Articles have been written about how Social Media has failed on a business and media level, but we should also consider how it has failed on a personal level.
Our social feeds are filled with tips and tricks, 8 simple ways to do This Thing, 12 Easy Ways to do The Other. Articles about “doing meaningful work” or “fostering your creativity” abound. All the humble brags, all the ways we either display our pride or reveal our need for love; they don’t help us grow as people. They augment the void within. In the end, it is all talk, words on the winds of cyberspace, here for a moment then driven away when the page is refreshed.
Social media has become little more than a machine for generating envy and discontent. Businesses that run social networks make money on our insecurity ; they have made peer pressure into a measurable science. The things that we have created are kneecapping us by exploiting our weaknesses instead of bolstering our strengths.
All is transience, all is vanity, and we are willing, complicit participants.
There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. -Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
I remember my parents saying to me, “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?”
I can see the cold water rushing up to greet us, holding hands while we fall. It’s not where we thought we’d be.
Contentment, accomplishment, and happiness are not digital services. They cannot be subscribed to.
Let’s rethink how we interact with this thing we call The Internet. It’s a tool, not a destination. It is an abstraction of real life, not reality itself. It will never love you. It has an off switch, and we need to remind ourselves of that.