So much of life nowadays, assuming you are not just struggling to get by, seems like it would be all set up for greatness. The cost of basic necessities doesn’t amount to nearly as much of an income as it used to make up; money and time for leisure are aplenty… but the main ways in which this is noticeable is just by consumption.
Everybody would claim to be too busy, have no time for anything – but hours are spent in front of the TV, hours spent surfing the web, tons of things bought on extended shopping sprees – all for the promise of an advantage that they should supposedly bring to life… In the past few years, social media have raised the game to all-new levels, introducing the ultimate pleasurable procrastination and disconnecting networks.
Finally, we can satisfy our urge to communicate and feel a part of a community – without actually having to interact with people, care about their looks or feel obligated to be there for them.
Long after Neil Postman claimed that we were amusing ourselves to death – at a time that seems devoid of most entertainment when compared to today – we have actually come to a point where we are so hooked on the instant hit of communication, “don’t text and drive” has become a necessary campaign for public safety. “Don’t chat and bike” and “don’t hide your face behind a screen while you talk face-to-face” seem other intelligent guidelines and simple manners that have fallen before the onslaught of digital, instant communication.
Increasingly, studies point out what casual observation has already made us suspect: the internet, and especially social media use, may well be addictive. Not only that, but it also changes the very wiring of our brains so that instant novelty is sought even more strongly than our mere human curiosity would already make us do. Attention gets scattered, thought less linear but none the wiser/more-systemic for it, and narcissistic tendencies are strengthened.
No wonder. After all, we can present ourselves just the ways we want to be seen, as interesting and worthy of envy and admiration as we can make our lives out to be – and we even seem to feel pressured into putting our best face forward, making our life appear as fascinating on Facebook as we could only wish for it to really be.
Every “like” a little push on the lever to stimulate the reward system of our brains, every status update another story spun to show our grandiosity.
It is terrible – or is it that we are just terrible in thinking things through and using this technology for our growth?
Consider what we are seeing with at least some of the “quantified self” movement and attempts at the “gamification” of better-habit building: Social networking sites/services (SNS) as platforms for the public record, mechanisms of support, and tools for building conscientiousness.
Your end goal should perhaps better be kept to yourself (as Derek Sivers argued in this TED talk) – or should not be a final destination, but a change in way of life, in habits – but the steps along the way may be easier when we have an audience which cheers us along that way, keeps us accountable, and/or that we fear failing in front of.
You should probably not visualize how great you are going to be in an imaginary perfect future – let alone lie on Facebook to be “liked” – but rather imagine how you’ll get down day after day for doing what you need to do in order to grow, having fun or at least being happy you are embarked on that hard-but-better process.
Of course, it depends on your personality. If you want nothing but more and more adoration for your great life, you may feel compelled to go for ever-“greater” feats – or at least, status updates. If you are completely aloof, it may be better not even to write. For most of us in the middle, though, the challenge seems to be just to re-focus on *our* lives and *our* growth, and the small steps along that path.
Doing better or worse, we will probably not rise to (online) prominence. Even if we get ourselves the latest and greatest of action cams, we may just feel that we never get to locales which are exotic enough, never get into action that is hair-raising enough – and wouldn’t have the skill and computer processing power (let alone time) to produce the amazing videos it takes to be acknowledged as great….
Getting focused on that would probably be a sign of a pretty narcissistic and insecure personality, though, and I should hope that someone looking for personal growth would do so not to simply strengthen the effect of such problematic sides, but to get over them.
For that middling level – which is where the vast majority of us has to be, of sheer mathematical necessity, or it wouldn’t be the middle, the average – though, it may not be the worst thing to remember that there is a life beyond Facebook & Co., to live it better, and to come back to social networks to talk of our experiences with that.
It builds momentum and gives an impetus we could well use in this world built for destructive convenience.
In fact, as long as we manage to make it self-centered (in the sense of us living our own lives, truly and creatively) rather than selfish (all about nothing but ourselves) and other-controlled (motivated by not much more than the “success” of our posts… and videos… and ebooks, perhaps), a conscious use of social media to put our best face forward – and then live up to it! – may be considerably better than either just gossiping through social networks, or living along, humdrum, with or without the use of social media, without any further learning and growth.