Sometimes it is the first thing we do in the morning. Before even getting out of bed, we check our phones. As if, during those few hours of sleep, during our short absence from the digital universe, something crucial has happened. We check our phones, an automatic, internalized movement, repeated every so often; every minute, every hour, every day. More than anything else, it has become a meaningless reflex. We are scanning chunks of information, flooded with images and facts. Absent-mindedly, without even realising, we check our phones – for updates, for likes, for messages, for pictures. Immerging in a universe, so different from the world around us – a universe that has nothing in common with the reality we live in, but that slowly, sluggishly, takes its place. We, ourselves are the architects of that universe, we create it with our posts and likes,; we have our part in the dynamics of social media.
But have you ever wondered for instance, what message your Facebook feed is conveying? Or what image of yourself you are perpetuating online? I mean, have you ever consciously reflected on the posts and feeds and walls and timelines you are scanning, creating, disseminating?
What is the nature of this illusionary digital world?
This world is a bubble, pretending that everything is fine. That we’re all moving on, enjoying life. That things are ok and that we’re all engaged, involved, and socially responsible. A universe of successes and good times. A world, I am as much part of as anyone else. A bubble of good vibes, suggesting we’re making the most of every day, constantly moving on.
Many separate studies have confirmed that Facebook and other social media platforms can cause depression and make people sad and lonely. I remember reading an article about this and thinking, “How come… ? There’s no way we take what others post that seriously.”
In the end, we all know how it works. We don’t join social media to be sad and lonely. We join to throw ourselves out there and to belong. Creating an image of ourselves that makes us feel good that allows us to hold on against social comparison, to show that we too are having a good time. And then, there it is, that image of ourselves that we have created, that we have interiorised. That has become independent, nourished, by facebook’s tailored feeds.
I never quite realised how much power social media had over me. As for most people, I guess, checking my feed or posting something once in a while has become more a reflex than anything else. It seemed insignificant, random. Until I took a leave of absence from the Bubble and keep getting the invites, the pictures, the posts: invites to events I won’t attend, news from societies I am not part of anymore. I hear what’s on in town, where to go, where to be all implying that I should take part in student life and yet I am not inside the Bubble, nor even in the same country. It is only now that I realise what a farce it is and how much power social media has over me. How we help creating a reality that starts working on its own. With my posts and likes, I helped create that illusionary reality – there it is, the feed suggesting that I am still part of that universe that I have, momentarily, left.
Only now can I understand how Facebook and the like can indeed cause depression or make people feel bad, alienated or self-conscious. But that digital bubble of good vibes, success stories and great experiences is only that – a bubble. I too, share the positive stuff and keep the struggles to myself, suggesting that I’m part of that wave of successes and positivity.
But there is no such wave.
We make up a reality that is exactly the opposite of what we put out. It is not real, it is an illusionary world. A world, that only works inside social media. But in the end, we too, ‘live’ more and more inside social media. Running the danger of thinking it is authentic, of thinking this is life while life happens around us.
That illusionary world has more and more power over us and this is why we should at least engage with it consciously, intentionally and keep being critical towards it.
This is not saying we should change our behaviour on social media. That we should not post, because, maybe, there’s someone who may feel bad. Not at all. Neither am I saying that social media is all bad, thereby neglecting the crucial role it is playing for example on the scale of social awareness, or politically – we only have to think of the dynamics of the Arab Spring.
But it is suggesting that we should reflect, reflect upon the ‘realness’ of the world we are creating on social media. To reflect and give up comparing ourselves to others, thereby creating a ‘self’ that is not what it seems – a self that is only an illusion, an image, but that starts working by itself. That keeps suggesting we live in a bubble that is only an illusion.
At university, we learn to be critical, ask questions and take nothing for granted. It is time that we apply this to our digital universes as well.