“I Share, Therefore I Am”

In a world of thousands of Facebook Friends, hundreds of Twitter Followers, and dozens of Instagram Likers, how is it that we’re still so lonely?

Robert Gordon, a writer for Elite Daily, discusses this issue of incredible loneliness that plagues the millennial generation in his article, “This Video Will Have You Completely Rethink How You Conduct Yourself Online And In Person.” The article features a video by Shimi Cohen

In the video, Cohen argues,

The individual is measured by personal achievements such as having a career, wealth, a self-image, and consumerism. In this course of action, many people lose their social and familial connections in favor of a self-actualization ideal.

(Cohen, Gordon)

Instead of focusing on face-to-face, offline relationships, we busy ourselves constantly updating our profiles. We upload pictures from the crazy party we went to last weekend and tag all of our friends, we check in at the hot new club we’re at, and we Instagram the five-star meal we’re eating, all in order to show our Friends and Followers just how awesome we are. We are living in a world where we are “obsessed with self-promotion” (Cohen, Gordon). Social networking sites allow us edit, re-edit, and delete to our heart’s content, until we have finally created the perfect, ideal image of ourselves. We can pick the photos that we look best in, choose the right wording for our emails, and delete an embarrassing comment from our mother on our Wall. Social networking sites give us a platform to showcase our accomplishments (such as our career and wealth) and the ability to perform our ideal-self online at all times. Unfortunately, there is a trade-off in this creation of our ideal selves. Our offline relationships are sacrificed and we are no longer having “vulnerable and genuine conversations in real time” (Gordon).

This idea of the self as a performance is discussed in Hugo Liu‘s “Social Networking Profiles as Taste Performances.” Liu posits that “by utilizing the medium of social network sites for taste performance, users can display their status and distinction to an audience comprised of friends, co-workers, potential love interests, and the Web public” (Liu, 253). Online, it is much easier to create an comprehensive view of our identity. In other words, on our profiles, we include information about many different aspects of our lives all in one place. But in the offline world, we only share certain information about our identities depending on where we are and who we are with. We therefore use our online identities/versions of ourselves to communicate to our network that we have good taste and thus should receive their respect and admiration.

Often times, taste performances that are presented online differ from an individual’s offline identity. This is, again, because of the technological affordances of the social networking site that make it easier to achieve our best selves online. Offline, one may not have the financial resources to achieve the tastes that are culturally valuable. Our online taste performances help us to avoid the vulnerability that we are likely to encounter in offline relationships. By presenting an identity that is socially accepted and valued, we decrease the chances of rejection and humiliation by our peers. But consequently, we are then left with a social circle that only exists within the confines of our electronic devices. And outside of those devices, we are still alone.

Another aspect of social media that contributes to our constant self-promotion is the idea of sharability. In “Without You, I’m Nothing: Performances of the Self on Twitter,” Zizi Papacharissi defines sharability as “an affordance of networked digital spaces, because it constitutes an architectural feature of networked structures encouraging sharing rather than withholding information” (Papacharissi, 1992). Social networking sites make its users more comfortable with self-disclosure. From family issues to friendship drama to relationships to political values, there is almost nothing that someone out there on the Internet is not afraid to share. However, once we share these things via Facebook status, Tumblr post, tweet, etc., we anxiously await the response from our Friends and Followers. We hope they like our updates and comment in agreement and share our posts with their other friends. Our identities are validated by the favorable response of those in our network. We hope they approve of our tastes and personal achievements.

But in the offline world, sharing is not as simple as clicking a button. The exchange of information requires more direct communication between parties such as a face-to-face conversation. In such an interaction however, we aren’t able to craft our mannerisms and diction as easily as we can online. We become what we fear: vulnerable to social faux pas. And to avoid this fear, we remain lonely and connect mainly through the clicks of our mouse and the pressing of buttons.

The presentation of information via Gordon’s article and Cohen’s video was done beautifully. The visuals of the video keep the viewer engaged and the simplicity of the visuals make the arguments very clear. It is quite ironic though that their points are getting across through people sharing their article online. Their use of the very mediums that they criticize reiterate the present social norms and practices. Herein lies a paradox: if their message was not released on a social networking site, it probably would not have been widely-read. And it is due to this paradox, that the platform they chose was the most appropriate and effective choice. The reason readers can relate to the information is because it is presented precisely as they are committing the very acts that are being called into question; I personally came across this article because it came up on my Facebook and Twitter feed.

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