The Performative Nature of Social Media

Photo by Gabriele Stravinskaite on Unsplash

Over the years, I have had a few unsuccessful attempts at staying on social media. It is definitely luring but there is that addictive aspect to it. Once you start, you get sucked right into it. After all, it is literally engineered to do just that. I guess initially, there is also the joy of getting to play with something new. For me, I have always used it as an excuse to showcase some ideas that I have been toying with or any of the stuff that I create. And this is what it’s built for, and that’s also the lure of it — to showcase some aspects of our lives. But, something changes when we start getting attention on the stuff that we’ve shared. We like the attention, we want more of it and then we’re addicted to it. It is burnt right into our biology. There’s an inception that takes place which we can never spot because it is brilliantly subtle and it is deep enough to find its root in our biology.

Once it has taken its root, we‘re incentivized to share even more stuff and we’re incentivized with the currency of other people’s attention. It is so primal that we can’t deny it. But, here’s the thing, the reason for which we initially shared something in the first place is lost somewhere by this point. It has been perverted by the system’s demands masquerading under our biological necessity of social appreciation and acceptance. And since it has hijacked our psyche, there could be unintended consequences. Let’s just say that we start sharing some of our genuine experiences. But, we can’t have such experiences very often (their values also lie in their scarcity); and since we are incentivized to have more of them, we might start manufacturing them or even worse imitate someone else’s experiences and put up a performance of our own. It seems like at that point, even our lives become a performance, a false narrative generated by whatever rules the algorithm decides for us. That is not a life lived, that is a pathetic attempt at living a life. And, I don’t think it’ll not be long till we start measuring our self-worth by the currency of attention that we could garner. At that point, we must realize that we’re just playing another game, and we have no idea about the scale of it. Not only that initial purity of the joy of sharing has been corrupted by now, but we’re also less likely to experiment with new experiences and ideas as we have pre-emptively limited ourselves by the Overton window and we are afraid of stepping out of it because an unsuccessful attempt would be a public one.

We perceive our online presence as a reflection of how we are or how our lives are. But it’s not that; it’s a lie. It is rather how we would like others to perceive our lives to be. It’s a story that we want to tell others. But, at some point, we might start believing in that lie ourselves. And when we start believing in it, our lives will become a product — a story — that we’re bound to sell to others because we’ve inadvertently & helplessly tied ourselves to it and yet there’s social leverage to be gained. And right here, this is the translation of that attention currency into our analog reality. But, here’s the tax: somewhere deep down, we know that’s not how our lives really are, because we live in them. And, there is this moment of cognitive dissonance. Maybe in the back of our heads, we start asking ourselves questions about the juxtaposition of these two realities and how incongruent they are with each other. And, this might be a source of immense suffering. It is the incompatibility of the digital and the analog realities.

We know that social media has the power to dissipate information at an unprecedented scale, and it’s a great tool to have for someone who is in possession of great ideas and art because we all seek them. It is such a powerful tool and as with all powerful tools, it holds within itself the power to corrupt its wielder. It demands great discipline to not believe in our own mythos. And, I don’t know if someone has successfully managed to do that.

When we create something or when we have genuine and interesting experiences, we obviously find in ourselves this urge to share it among other people. So, what do you do when someone finally provides you with a stage to display it? Maybe it’s just like when you give a hammer to someone, everything else becomes a nail to them. Similarly, when we’re presented with a stage, we tend to act out a narrative — a story. I think our foolishness lies in us not being able to tell it apart from reality. Or it could be that we’re incapable of telling it apart because of our obsession with stories. But, the stage remains empty, and the spotlight is on.

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