We live in an age where self-publication is almost second nature. We post where we are —often down to the exact geographic coordinates—who we are with, what we are eating, and who/what/when/why/ how we will be doing something/someone later. We create existences by listing musical tastes and posting photographic evidence of social lives.
I’m guilty. You’re guilty. It’s not entirely our faults.
Facebook implores users to post “what’s on your mind”. Tumblr is just a cesspool of I’m-alone-in-my -room-but-I’m-wearing-kooky-glasses web cam shots. Twitter …well, Twitter is still confused. And now Spotify instantly shares what music its users are listening to in real-time.
The updates are constant. Most of the information is superfluous. You don’t need to know about the marginally funny thing I just said —most likely taken out of context—but I’ll be damned if I don’t share it with the world.
This compulsion—to make yourself and your actions visible, and therefore, more “real” to a larger audience— almost seems like a branch of the “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it…” riddle. If you don’t post pictures on Facebook of that ridiculous thing you did, did it actually happen? Sure, people joke: “Pictures, or it didn’t happen,” but I think, to an extent, the way we interact with each other in the digital world has morphed our perception of reality. Rampant fallacies fuel the social network machine, such as: If you aren’t “Facebook official”, the relationship does not exist; if you like A-type of movies, you are B-type of person; if your page lacks pictures of you “out and about” with people, you probably don’t get out much/have no friends; if you don’t have an internet presence, you practically don’t exist; etc. etc.
Of course, if you know a person more intimately than what you infer from a newsfeed, you most likely have a more in depth knowledge of the person and can see through these traps. But with other people —people you don’t necessarily see on a daily basis—it’s so easy to make assumptions about their “status” just by perusing their online presence. And suddenly—whether intentionally or not—a reality is created for a person, real or not.
I don’t know when it happened, but Facebook (and its counterparts) has become so ingrained in our psyche that often we can’t have a conversation without resurrecting and “immortalizing” its gems in status form, can’t do anything without momentarily considering: Should I post this? Will I get a sizable response for sharing this?
The dynamics of Facebook are sort of similar to the reality TV phenomenon —it sets out to capture “reality” but creates versions that are, in varying degrees, distorted, which in turn alters the behavior of actual reality, and in some ways, lessens the disparity, but in turn, makes simple actions seem superficial. It spurs a seemingly infinite cycle of art imitating life imitating art…without any sort of definitive answer to why why why we are so fascinated with…ourselves.
I think, more than anything, it is a matter of validation. If no one reads this post, did I really write it? isn’t the real question. Obviously, the Internet can’t will anything in or out of existence, though it may seem so at times. Something’s importance —for better or worse—derives from the significance it is granted by others. When you say something, its wittiness ultimately depends on the perception of other people—though you may have an unhealthy 10-minute laugh over it.
So the real question becomes: If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, who cares?