Whenever I read that some catastrophe occurred in a certain place and they give the number of deceased (specially if it’s a high number) I always think the same: Wow, that was quick.
It still strikes me how quick our language can be for events of such magnitude. We say ‘1 person’, and then ‘2 people’; but we can quickly change it for ‘1.000 people’. At that point, I am led to think that it isn’t ‘1.000 people’, it’s ‘1 person, plus 1 person, plus 1 person, plus…’.
Needless to say, depersonalisation isn’t something new. However, with the dramatic increase in population during the last century, the massive migration to big cities, the change to more busy lives, and the advent of technology, numbers represent us more than they have ever done.
Much of what I do has to do with introspection and insight — and I do like to wonder and ponder. Sometimes, when I walk on the street I like to look at people and become aware. I like to become aware that they are ‘1 person’.
What is he/she thinking about? What is his life like? What does she do for a living? Has he ever been heartbroken?
And also, Does he/she ever think about all this too?
Certainly, these questions are never answered. But that’s not the purpose or the intention of posing them in the first place. I just want, for a single moment, to humanise them, to let them become frugal characters of my own little universe.
Technology and social network
As I mentioned in a previous article about dating applications, the smartphones, tablets, and new ways of communication seem to have empowered this depersonalisation — or at least that’s what we read everywhere.
But, is that really true? Are new technologies and social networks setting us apart from each other.
Think about the example I talked about in the beginning of the article: people walking by. Most of the times we don’t know anything about them, and we will never have the chance to get to know them.
With social networks, one can easily hover on the name of the person that just posted a smart comment and know more about him/her, or even engage in a conversation.
This, of course, raises the privacy issue. But assuming that we would only make public on internet what we want to be known, isn’t it fantastic?
Even here, in WordPress.com, one can simply go to the Reader, find an interesting article that will lead him or her to the blog of a person, then read more articles and get to know more about the views of that individual.
Maybe he/she will read an interesting comment by someone, click on the name above it, and be led to his/her blog, and so on.
Suddenly, the anonymous person becomes personalised, related to interests, opinions, views. We may not meet all of them but, at least, we have the chance to engage in further conversation.
The addiction of attention
Another aspect that is often criticised about social networks and called my attention is the so-called ‘addiction’ to them and the psychological ‘quick’ rewards that they offer.
It is definitely true that we are starting to become dependant of technology, like we have become dependant of many other things (electricity, cars, a microwave, washing machines…). Maybe this particular kind of dependency is more noticeable because it directly influences our daily interactions.
However, the caricaturization that called my attention was Marc Maron‘s ‘The Social Media Generation’, which you may have seen around the net.
In the comic, Marc makes a direct similitude between a small kid calling for attention and our ‘calling for attention’ in social media, which leads to addiction. The curious part is that it start with ‘We’re adults, right?’.
That’s an easy question! Yes, we are.
But why would someone assume that, just because we are ‘adults’ we have stopped needing attention, or calling for it.
In fact, we need attention more than ever, probably because we are adults, because we don’t get that much attention anymore.
In today’s society it seems that it’s politically incorrect to imply that we are egocentric, that we do seek attention, and that many things that we do, including the most altruist ones, are (in some way) targeted to get that attention. We have been force to bury that in the deepest part of our subconscious.
But we still strive for gratitude, for acceptance and recognition. Of course, there are degrees. But, at least, we expect people to say thank you.
We are social animals, and even the most individual and altruist behaviours, like those aimed to self-realisation, are many times linked to social acceptance. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (or pyramid), self-realisation is at the very top, and some may separate it from the lower parts, like different categories. However, let’s remember that it’s a pyramid, and the top lies on the foundations, and it’s most of the times influenced by it.
Art, music, writing, helping others… Writing this entry is in many ways a ‘call for attention’. Likes, comments, follower are our ‘attention’.
Does this make us any less ‘adults’? What does being an ‘adult’ mean? Pretending that we don’t care what others think? Pretending that we don’t need a pat on the back or to be accepted?
Social Media has certainly make it quicker, and sometimes meaningless. Many times a ‘Like’ is a simple ‘I hear you’ and not an actual ‘I like it’. And there is also some truth in the fact that social media often becomes a place for an excessive attention-seeking attitude, but so does our physical daily interactions.
All that glistens is not gold
When using social networks, and in the process of ‘humanisation’ of the individuals, we often find a flaw — not everything that is shown is a reflection of what it’s behind.
I would like to use this fine short film by Shaun Higton as an example:
We tend to forget that social network are used in a myriad of ways. Not everybody give them the same use. Some people like to post trivial and positive stuff: travels, nice dinners out, party pictures.
Other go deeper, and post their personal thoughts — and many times regret it later.
Again, this isn’t something limited to social networks, we do that in our daily lives. I remember having a chat about this with a friend of mind that had just met a guy whose like was perfect. He felt really bad, and somehow inferior. I would have probably felt that way too!
The fact that we have more information about that individual give by him, shouldn’t refrain us from pondering about more. Even if that person is not a ‘person’ anymore, and has a name for us, that doesn’t mean that we know ‘the whole story’. We don’t have to. We don’t need to. We just have to be aware that there’s more.
We all have great day, and bad days. We all cry and listen to depressing songs remembering our ex. Each of us is different and unique, but the patterns are the same.
Despite all that, not everything in Social Networks is bad. As always, it’s a matter of measure and context. They can lead us to meet and engage with amazing people. Let’s just not forget to leave them aside for a moment when we are enjoying a nice coffee with them!
Image: Unknown Passengers by Isaías Campbell