A modern world of smoke and mirrors: the ongoing effects of social media
It’s a sunny day outside. The breeze is gentle and kind, swaying only in time to take the edge off the heat. A picturesque view lies in the backdrop, of mountains and rivers or narrow cobbled streets of a foreign town – the sort of setting that automatically inspires awe. But in a world of facades, the awe is dampened, diminished to pre-occupations of the self and the potential for opportunity. Venture into any city, explore any popular tourist landmark or scene of recognised natural beauty, and the reality of the above becomes uncomfortably apparent.
It’s not an opportunity for inspiration; it’s an opportunity for a selfie. Such is the pervasiveness of social media that many of us are unable to exist within a moment. Moments, in fact, serve only to perpetuate a self-image – a branding – easily framed by the perfectly angled photograph, wherein the select shade of the sun amplifies the features and attributes we most desire to expose, and renders in shadow those that we do not. We do not marvel for the sake of a cherished memory; we marvel for how an event may be represented to our friends and peers, and the return benefit gained on virtue of being physically present. Each day, we deposit into a shared fiction, one which narrates how we must live, and what it is to live – a world of beaming smiles and expressions of maddening ecstasy that fade with the flash, until all gather over a four-inch screen to inspect the quality of the moment. For those sensitive to the implications, social media is fraught with despair and premonitions of a superficial, lost and empty future.
Within the 70s and 80s, the nascent generation of pioneers were inspired by mindfulness philosophies, lending from the Buddhist traditions and through their inventors, contributing to the bedrock of the digital age. Steve Jobs was known to keep a copy of Be Here Now close by at all times, as an important part of his spiritual and philosophical repertoire. Like many of his generation, he was conscious of the dangers of conformity. In later years, he warned against being ‘trapped by dogma’, and the inner emphasis he placed on individual exploration and mindfulness became readily apparent through his work.
The irony is that technology (and specifically social media) has since suspended our ability to live within a moment. We dwell on the implications of a moment – how we were represented, whether a picture showed us off at our best, or whether what we write will be interpreted in the correct way by the correct people. The principles of anti-conformity, liberty and freedom of spirit have, to a degree, become lost to the offspring of these cultural preoccupations – social media and the like. As with many technologies, the perniciousness of the Internet, smartphones, social media, and anything that substitutes for real experience, is slow growing, rotting something at the core of Western culture and the world at large. For the most part, technology has served to augment humanity’s capacity and quality of life, but mostly measured in terms of convenience. Convenience – the ability to do, to have done or communicate quickly and effectively – naturally erodes structures that were once considered integral. If supermarket chains spelt the end of local independent stores, and Amazon hit home the long-awaited nail to high-street retail, then the convenience of social media has similar implications for the naturalness (or truth) of human interaction, in so far that it can exist within a modern, capitalist society.
The question of truth is paramount. Too often we’re complicit in a lie, and are compelled by the currents of communal and global forces. Social media, in its current form, produces a spiritual erosion, whereby what we say and how we act is far less important than what we appear to say, and how we appear to act. We’re living in a world of smoke and mirrors, fraught with existential questions of existence framed solely through a digital lens. Social media has the power to mobilise social progression, the results of which can be seen within the LGBT movement, but the cost of circumventing our current realities will, perhaps, one day prove too high.