I’ve recently reactivated my Facebook account after a two month long hiatus from that virtual world which ultimately left me feeling disconnected rather than connected, and in the process I have learned a few things.
It’s common knowledge that a Facebook profile is much like the face or facade we put on everyday; it’s the highlights and best of ourselves that we want people to recognize immediately, and in doing so categorizes us into a group of other seemingly “cool” people.
There is no harm in this – everybody wants to be seen a certain way, and we’re all guilty of it.
We make sure to talk about our strengths and interests rather than our weaknesses while in conversation with people, much like we post videos and statuses on these social networking sites that will ensure people “know” who we are.
I’d chalk this up much more to insecurity than a confidence in the self. We are so terrified, my self included, of being invisible that we grasp onto cliques, and take their most notable characteristics and embed them into ourselves. Of course its scary to feel invisible, and everybody wants the security of belonging to a group whose characteristics are immediately discernible – perhaps so that individuals don’t have to develop any notable ones of their own? Whatever the reason, people have had a long history of dividing themselves into groups and taking solace within them – the Internet has only proliferated that practice.
We divide ourselves by generation, interests, fashion choices and a myriad of other intangible, abstract things, which ultimately mean nothing. The only significance these divisions and groups hold is what they say about the people who choose to belong to them; that we are not, in fact, individuals, only a a monolithic and identity-less group of people, occupying the white space that exists in the mangled notion of division, and constantly living in and trying to outrun the wake of their very recent histories.
In light of this, I think this post largely boils down to one thing; the invisibility and disconnection of a modern people that become just that by desperately searching for connection and belonging. Everything exists online; groups, conversations, albums, thoughts, friends, cliques and most importantly – acceptance. If you do not belong to the virtual world of Twitter, Facebook, Tumbler, MySpace etc., then you are out of the loop and cannot hope to belong.
I completely subscribed to this – I was an avid Facebook user and made sure to respond timely to friend requests, inbox messages, wall posts, comments and likes. In doing this I gave myself a cemented virtual presence and was able to connect with others who did this. I will admit that the pros of this virtual world are connectivity, instant knowledge and constant accessibility to everything, but these are also the cons.
It seems to be an indefatigable paradox that we live in – the lure of all of the above that leads to a feeling of togetherness, but also loneliness. We sit online for all hours, waiting for messages and friend requests, scanning the news feeds that updates us about what all of our friends and even enemies are doing, every minute of every day.
I lived in the grey space of watching life scroll by, but never actually living it. Luckily, unlike many other people and friends I know, I never suffered from FOMO (the fear of missing out) – where the perusal of sites feeds resulted in a depression because they’re not living the lives that others are.
My real problem was that pursuing these social networking sites (although I was really only ever adequate at Facebook because I couldn’t work out how to even use the rest) often lead to me just hating what I read, and further attributing that hatred to the people that posted. I hated the nonsense and the pointlessness of some updates, I hated the need for people to remain observers and judgers rather than livers of life, and most of all, I hate the fact that just like everybody else out there, I was under the scrutiny of the public eye. I’m not saying that this doesn’t happen outside of the virtual world – of course it does – but the virtual sphere is a contained one, which is ever-recording and ever-watching. There is no escape from this world, and ironically enough, it is painted as an escape from the real world; “I don’t feel like going out, I’m just going to have a fat day on the couch and surf the web” – said by thousands every day.
Whether the virtual world we all inhabit and are encouraged to engage with is actually an escape, or one of a mimetic nature, there is no answer. We do know, however, that the same rules apply, and become more important than ever – which makes it double as terrifying.
Anyway, that was where I found myself – scanning the news feeds on Facebook until all hours, oscillating between feeling wonderfully in touch with everything, and at the same time horribly disconnected from it.
So, after a breakup with a guy who really didn’t deserve it, I removed my Facebook account to escape the criticism and judging eyes, and the freedom I felt was incredible.
Suddenly, I only heard from actual people, who wanted to be my actual friend. Phone calls and texts suddenly boomed, and I was actually meeting real people, out at real bars, and having real conversations that didn’t follow the dictates of preconceived notions gleaned from stalking my various profiles in preparation for our meeting.
I felt comfortable in not belonging, only because I knew that this new notion of connectivity and belonging that is predicated on the existence of an internet or virtual presence is only a rearticulated social construct – as are all other forms of connectivity. What I learned, however, was that I was able to choose the one that best suited me. And this involved no online activity.
I loved not knowing everything that was happening in other people’s lives, I loved going out to parties, not because I had come across it online, but because someone had invited me. Ioved making dates with my girlfriends via text and phone calls rather than group Facebook inboxing, and I loved finding out about important events and happenings in my friend’s lives, not because I stumbled across a photo they posted online, but because they had called me to chat about it.
Yes, I suppose the same level of disconnect applies – I was out of the loop and my circle of connectivity was really only limited to about 5 or 6 people, but it was real. I felt more intimate with people that I actually wanted to engage with, and happily disconnected from those that I forced myself to engage with online.
Fuck! I even gathered the courage to ask a guy out on a date – I had never done that before! I had always relied on inconspicuous Facebook flirting and the advantages that the “highlights” of my profile afforded me.
Yes, it was terrifying, and he said yes, though I have yet to hear from him. This hasn’t bothered me at all, the incredible thing was the fact that I actually gathered the courage to exist out in the open for all to see, rather than hiding behind an online persona that categorized me in the eyes of others.
This actually made me see the cliché in the idea of cliques and belonging – it’s all much the same as a Facebook or Twitter account. You broadcast the aspects of yourself that align you with a certain group of people, and in that way you belong, even if you don’t really.
It’s like that old saying – everybody’s an individual.