The Freedom To Not Be

There’s no doubting that the excessive usage of social media is damaging or harmful to an individual’s spirit, body, and soul, and to get clean from such an obsession is to temporarily remove oneself from the virtual reality – and subsequently conversation with fellow users, which now comes at the cost of surviving the winter of solitude and ironically, to recede and take a step back away from the over-self-analysis scrutiny of how one is in relation to other people/users and to go in hiding with only one’s own flesh and blood, body and mind to reflect upon. But this removing or deleting of one’s entire online existence from the corpus of the internet is a solution to the problem of existential angst, confusion of identity, limitless freedom and consequential inauthenticity that proves hopeless and unhelpful in the long run. It is this innocently ignorant or uncaring attitude of believing one has the freedom, ability, or state of mind to simply exit from the world of social media and cut off all involvement and connection with the internet (the part of the internet one can only really care to fully acknowledge if it has something to do with our own self) which leads me to believe we are yet to fully actualize or consider the real-ness of the internet and social media, and at understanding that its now apart of our reality that will only ever integrate and incorporate itself with and within our existence at an exponential rate that leaving or avoiding or stopping the usage of the internet will become extremely difficult, if not impossible. And so, an alternative solution is needed in order to live an anxiety-reduced state of confusion, despair-free, happily fulfilling life with and within the internet. This solution doesn’t require a change of action, nor of attitude, but of gathering an understanding to the workings of social media –  its effects and consequences on our behavior towards ourselves and others – and lift the veil revealing in all its superficial charm the illusion of the virtual ideal life that acts as a surrogate to our own seemingly pitiful lives. 

 


 

Although it may not feel like it, social media has become the dominant mode of creative self-expression and, more importantly, one that is more akin to High Art than anything else, and can only be seen as the natural progression from writing to drawing, to photography and film, to now videos and images that are, albeit, not too dissimilar from the previous mediums mentioned, particularly photography, but still nevertheless embodies its own unique characteristics and functions that enables to separate itself and become its own. But because of its plasticity and ever changing form, it doesn’t conform to genre and so cant be seen to reside more with literature than contemporary art or film; except, it has taken the essence of each of those and made it its own subject matter: the subject itself, the self, the author, the performative persona for which we embody. Before social media, it has never been too hard to distinguish between fiction and reality in art, and the link between author and work has never been so closely connected before since social media, and it is this distinct characteristic, I believe, that has caused mass confusion of self and others with the blurring between performance and action, authenticity and insincerity, freedom and slavery to an unchanging and forever going virtual system. Social Media is the subject of subjects.

 

Art As The Selfie Onto Our Reality

 

Has social media given us the opportunity to be ultimately free with limitless possibility as opposed to the limited opportunity of circumstance in the real world? In other words, has social media allowed access to our true selves we otherwise have missed out on or could only internalize because of the supposedly overbearing circumstances of reality? Or, are we now too free with no real sense of direction that is needed for a fulfilling life? Are we now in a blended mix between the limited freedom of the real world and the limitless freedom of the social world and our own sense of identity, parrying between the two, contributes to the mass confusion we all feel because of our inability of being able to tell the difference between the identity of the online-self and real-world-self and this together is a cause of inauthenticity?

Throughout the history of artistic creation it is not uncommon to see an Author substitute their own person for that of a fictional character, or scenes of people employed to tell a fictitious reality that, upon witnessing, becomes a reflection of our own. And it would not be hard to believe that these fictitious characters used to reflect their own reality is any less authentic than its author, and yet with social media, the blurring or combination or schizophrenia between these two persons, author and character, has an affect on the notion of self identity and the real world consequences that happen because of it. As well as the ambiguity of authenticity and sincere actions.

The identity of the author and the online persona isn’t so distinct as to be two separate people, nor so combined as to be one but a half and half mix that interchanges between the real and virtual world. Provisionally and capriciously flipping between the ‘roles’ the actor plays and acts out to the degree we don’t know who is who or which is which when encountering with the actor whether in the virtual or, more importantly, the real world. To such a degree also that the actor them self has also forgotten or got confused over their own identity of playing which role.  

We are not so good at introspection, self analysis and third person thinking that makes the purpose of art all the more important, to act as the reflection to our own ways of being that self-introspection falls flat. In other words, its to look at our own hands through, or with, the mirror. Of course, this ‘reflection’ of our reality could instead be viewed as its own kind of reality that has no accurate bearing to our reality and it is in the many interpretations of the people to discuss and, more importantly, reflect upon the reflection and to not take anything as truth without further speculation.

The problem of course is social media has taken an inward approach to looking at reality by taking as its subject, the subject who’s contemplating the subject, in other words, the self. It is a self-oriented art that plays out a faulty and unreliable self-analysis and introspection that art was there in order to bring us back to reality. It has in effect, brought reality to our own control that’s completely and consciously socially constructed and curated and has provided a competing pluralistic reality among the billions of subjects where nothing can be made coherent, no sense of what’s what and who’s who and has pushed us back farther down the rabbit hole in terms of understanding our own being and position in the world.

 

The Archaeological Self

 

What’s very strong about forming our identity through social media is one: we have a clear understanding in the progression of a particular identity through scrolling back the history of its life, and two: counter-productively, we have the ability to manipulate and curate and delete what goes on the internet of ourselves, for the most part, that contributes towards the strengthening of our own sense of identity and who we want to be seen as. This is opposed to how one’s identity, pre-social media, would have formed and developed whereby what you say of yourself, what you let yourself show to others, makes up only half of what contributes to your identity, the other half being what others make and say of you, which affects and collides with other people’s sense of you and to some extent what you think of yourself. Because if introspection is so bad that we need art, and this case other people, to provide us with the reflection of our own reality we’ve been living, then we must believe, to some degree, the assignment and identifiers of character others make on us. But this of course requires its own reflection, otherwise it would be dangerous and/fatal to believe what others say of you because of ones idea of limited access to our own sense of identity. Its set up as a perfect dialectic (thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis), we prove the thesis of our own identity, others provided the anti-thesis of our identity, and we compromise or provide a synthesis of our identity between the two.   

 

The Social Medium Is Half The Message 

 

The disconcerting paradox for avid social media users is the way in which an audience or viewer makes judgments about the person relative to the particular social media app used. It would be presumptuous to think that every social media app has no differing causal effect on the author and its audience because the difference between the ways the apps function guides its users to act and present themselves in different ways limited by the design of the app itself. For instance, the small difference in having ‘Friends’ and ‘Followers’ affects the curatorial outcome for their identity. Also, each app is intuitively understood by the masses of its users as having its own unique connotations that if one were to post a picture on any one of the multiple apps available, the interpretation of that image would differ dramatically based on the presumptuous ideas of the app itself and what the consensus for how that app functions is. And with Instagram in particular, there is the assumption that it functions as a tool to showcase a users life in the best possible light, an ideal life represented through carefully curated highlights of one’s life. It is because of this constructing of an ideal life, and the seemingly insincere motif of showing or revealing only that which you want to be seen as, reveals more about you that you wish when one starts to think about all those photos that go un-uploaded, hidden, or absent. That now your identity is made up of all the photos you haven’t taken or rejected to upload, because of the presupposition that every upload is a fake or inauthentic portrayal of the idea of the ideal identity through which you want to identify as having first wanting to show the best and more ideal aspect of your life. The more you try to hide, the more revealing the hidden becomes. It’s often said that we have an online-presence, but we forget we also have an online-absence. 

 

Community of Ghosts

Social Media is a haunting community of ghosts who are not only afraid or weary of the absence of their own presence but the presence of those that are absent from them. Initiating a performance between these two states where they are unaware or unable to identify if their thoughts, actions or resting soul can be seen, hunted and dissected.

Their movements and interactions are steeped with superstition, not knowing whether they can be seen and so act in such a way as if they were, modifying their behavior at the present moment and foreseeable future. This locks them into a perpetual anxiety-induced enforced performance whereby if caught not doing, they risk becoming non-existent. Such as how one might change, control, manipulate, or censor their behavior or actions, with a heightened sense of self-consciousness, when one walks around their room or house stark naked, with no real way of being seen, yet are aware that every movement they make, every action they perform for as long as they are in this condition (that of being naked), could be spotted and caught out for being the selves we wish were not seen. Thus, for as long as they are in this superstitious condition of being seen and performing for a potential non-existent other, they act in a way that maintains their appearance and holds up to their own ideals of self. This condition of being naked, I believe, is analogous to the condition of being on social media, except, we are now at a point where the interaction with social media and the internet is somewhat of an enforced participation where one’s clothes are never coming back on and left forever naked, forever voyeured, forever paranoid, forever performing for the invisible other, the community of ghosts. We have no option of being a slave to a system of the commodification of self for fear of potentially being an outcast to an ever growing community, a community with which we would inevitably be left behind and alienated.

The phones we have tied to out waist are the ghosts, the alternative spirit of the individual.

We have to perform in order to survive or prolong the anxiety of being caught out for not doing, for not performing, for not being or seen or noticed for who we really want to be or for whom a system wants us to be. It is an anxiety of performing just enough to keep our heads above the water, away from drowning into non-existence. So long as we engage we prevent the risk of humiliation done onto ourselves and others done onto us.

But, this anxiety or fear of not performing is by no means irrational. Due to the reason that one’s identity is formed from the development of socialization, as well as individuation, and a collaboration among the community. And to not participate with social media, to take hold of your own identity, is to allow others who know or don’t know you to form, meld or create  your identity on your behalf, and thus you really do risk the fear of becoming something your not, and so you then feel somewhat forced to make an identity for yourself relative to who you think you are, who you would like to be parried with what others think of you and what the system potentially imposes onto you. It is an enforced freedom to be and show who we really want to be for if not, your freedom to your own identity is created for you. The confusion over one’s sense of identity is the result of the paradox that if one chooses not to perform or participate, to however much degree, your identity online, as well as the intermingling with your real-world identity, is created for you. And so, if you do decide to participate and form your own identity, it is only because you now act in such a way that you don’t risk becoming non-existent which means your own sense of an authentic identity is compromised and essentially obscured. Thus a catch-22 happens with result to one’s own sense of authenticity that effectively hinders your well-being.