Before social media, before Oculus Rift, before personal computers, pre-Industrial Revolution humans had fragmented groups of tribes. The more regions came together, the more they had in common, and that meant the health benefits of having some kind of commonality of purpose was self-evident. But once civilization was encouraged to be a membership hall, those tribes fragmented. Nowadays, being online requires committing yourself to a centralized community, so the desire to belong to one focuses more on inclusivity and legitimacy than finding community. Of course, the opposite has also been true for many of us, many of the time.
Since we see little difference between a woman who is “safe” in her relationship with her family and a child who lives without biological parents, the latter’s sense of distinct identity is either overshadowed by a name or replaced by a tech icon or celebrity. Just as technology erases the geographic differences between us, it also erases our individual identity through social media.
What Would You Say If I Told You You Wouldn’t Be Alone This Christmas?
We aren’t alone. But that doesn’t mean we’re safe. Sure, we’re technically anonymous, but that can be taken away at a moment’s notice. We’re very aware that our human identities are limited by the act of identity sharing. We’re aware that our voices are not especially valuable to the world, because unlike papers, WhatsApps and social networks, we aren’t guaranteed a right to speak. We know that we aren’t empowered by our material possessions, but that because we live as individuals, in the end, we’re helpless.
This realization allows us to reflect on the addictive nature of social media in a much more realistic way. I really wouldn’t mind if social media just stopped letting me lie to myself about how much enjoyment I get from being “smart”. But let’s be honest: it doesn’t. The kinds of social networks we have today add value to society in completely different ways. While Facebook is a necessity for many, we rarely truly understand its impact on our culture. Yet technology needs to be used and controlled for our highest good, not to fill a void but to create something beyond ourselves.
What I Am Thankful For
As useless as social media may seem, the net effect of technology on me has been positive, though I’d probably do my time better away from screens and without technology as a form of communication. I’m also grateful that there are many new technologies (like 3D printing) that make me feel more empowered and engaged, rather than helpless, and better able to help out our world.
In fact, while I cannot deny that technology is screwing up our lives, the relationship that we have with the current generation of tech has also been a positive development. Back in the 1990s, Richard Branson (of Virgin Atlantic, etc) was making calls from a phone booth in Times Square. Today, Mark Zuckerberg is presiding over a $3.7 trillion company that not only benefits our species and the environment, but employs a half-million people. So, whether you’re quick to point out the problems or lazy about expressing your positive feelings about technology, the fact remains that we live a much better world because of technology.
What Can I Do?
My message for the next couple of years is simple: Don’t let technology eat your humanity. Make sure you have a voice. Don’t build up stress because you feel as though it’s necessary to be “connected” all the time. Never sacrifice your relationship with yourself for a social media commitment. If you don’t like the current face of technology, start your own. Forge your own path. Be a hero, maybe, in your own life. Do not be as stupid as some. But, have faith that in due time technology will become more fit for humans and that we’ll be able to connect, instead of disconnect.