There was a time when I was engaged in a long-running argument with some fellow academics about the nature of social media.
They argued that it was an unnatural displacement of and substitute for human social interaction and relatedness that was neither edifying nor healthy.
I argued that it was a natural extension of human sociality, enabled by human technology, that connected the previously disconnected and enabled new forms of relatedness.
I see now that both camps were both correct and incorrect.
It is a natural extension of human sociality, enabled by human technology, that connects the previously disconnected and enables new forms of relatedness, and that is also neither edifying nor (in some cases) healthy.
— § –
On social media, I am able to find and reconnect with people that left my life long ago, and that in another era would have remained little more than rose-colored memories. I am able not just to re-make their acquaintance in passing, but in fact to forge a renewed relationship that is maintained technologically, with minimal investment, so that we can remain connected and take comfort in our newly rediscovered connection with a minimum of sacrifice (this being a difficult thing to make in busy middle-aged lives).
At the same time, we then watch each other age in a way that is perhaps too intimate; the rose-colored portraits in memories long past are replaced by steely realities—insecurities, compromises made, failures logged, positions abdicated. We come to respect either other less than is justified by our past investments in one another, or more so. We measure self against other, and against the self once known by other.
Inasmuch as one’s life narrative includes, as a significant element, one’s own social history, this narrative becomes far less solid. “The story of my life” becomes an ever-changing thing as its constitutive characters and recollections are no longer fixed in memory, but alive on the page and repeatedly and continuously subject to discursive forces. Good characters become—sadly—bad ones, and bad ones become good ones before they are each inverted once again days or weeks later. Long-settled moments are re-opened for reimagining without warning. The story is more honest than it once was in the sense of being subject to ongoing methods for consensus-building and adjudication, but it is no longer written for anyone; it can’t be relied upon; it changes, once again, day by day.
Social media does enable new forms of relatedness and identity, and they are “natural” manifestations of the human condition in light of social media, which itself proceeds from indelibly human impulses and desires. At the same time, these new forms occupy new spaces that the old ones could not—more immediate, more persuasive spaces in everyday life—and they tend to render less persuasive the categoricals that proceeded from the ld ones, amongst these the self-identity and self-conceptions of unapologetically modern vintage.
The latter happen to be those categoricals alongside which I was born, and upon which my life (and the lives of many others alive today) were founded.
— § —
None of this is to essentialize one form or the other as either prior or “more true” or “more real.”
Rather, it is to note that one can make a personal evaluation of which one prefers as oneself, conceding from the start that this preference likely has much to do with one’s own socialization, identity, and history.
I’m ready to say that for myself, as who I am, I’m increasingly wary of social media, because of—not despite—its benefits.
Being raised as I was, when I was, in the society in which I was, I’m wired to presume that I am a particular person and that I am this person as a matter of a particular history. I can see now (with apologies to those that I’ve critiqued in the past) that both of these things are melted—from solidity into air—by social media. Both the person and the history are now evolving, instantaneous system states, not documents of fruition over time.
I suspect that it will be different for those that were raised in the social media era.
But of course, they will have their own changes to contend with.
As the world accelerates, this being-out-of-time is likely to become—itself—the nature of the human condition.
A human is he or she that lives the bulk of his or her mature life outside of his or her “natural” time—e.g. the time of his or her “programming.”
A human is that mammal which is inherently anachronistic.
We will know that the catastrophe has arrived when a generation returns, once again, to lifelong historical synchrony.
— § —
In the meantime—
“…the time is out of joint…”
“A generation that had gone to school on a horse-drawn streetcar now stood under the open sky in a countryside in which nothing remained unchanged but the clouds, and beneath those clouds, in a field of force of destructive torrents and explosions, was the tiny, fragile human body…the communicability of experience is decreasing.”
— § —
Out of time, out of place. That is the nature of age and experience in the late modern era.