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Technology, Manipulation and Relationships

My head’ll explode if I continue with this escapism.
-Jess C. Scott

“We refuse to turn off our computers, turn off our phone, log off Facebook, and just sit in silence, because in those moments we might actually have to face up to who we really are.” 
-Jefferson Bethke

Ever since the inception of social media I have been an active, if not hyper active, participant. When MySpace was first introduced I spent an incredible amount of time learning very, very basic HTML to make my page stand above others, considering what song would play as my profile song, and cultivating a very carefully drafted persona to present myself to my peers on. I agonized over placement of Top 8 and spent hours of my youth posing for the perfect Myspace photo.
MySpace was the tits! rawr xD ♥. Antiquated internet lingo now, but was how we communicated our personalities in 2004.
Eventually MySpace became a ghostland and Facebook was brought on. It’s inception baffled me. The format was fairly straight forward, personalization lacked, and there was no music. And yet, everyone seemed to be on board with it. Twelve years later and Facebook amongst other social media apps seem to be the very pillar of our social lives.  Seems that Facebook reigns supreme, though. What other social media platform has inspired a movie? I jokingly say that anyone who doesn’t have a social media profile is, questionably, not a real person.
The thought of disconnecting comes to me about once a week. Occasionally, I’ll start to feel like I know people more than I truly do because some algorithm sees I’ve interacted with their updates and continuously feeds me what they are doing. It’s a strange insight into a strangers life. A stranger I feel I know, but at the end of the day truly know nothing about.

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I was listening to a fascinating Podcast today, “We All See Ourselves in Black Mirror” was the title by the show “Notes to Self.” Notes to Self has got to be about one of my current favorite podcasts – it looks at the human side of the tech world.
Many may not know this about me, but I really love technology. I grew up in the dial up AOL world and tried to stay ahead of the curve since the internet made its debut in everyday households at a reasonable speed. I liked having the newest phones and I adored observing how technology affects culture. Culture is endlessly fascinating to me, and this is rather new. I enjoy, as most people who live in the tech world do, anticipating being a part of something. Our revolution may not be as romantic as those of the past, but we are at a precipice here with technology – like it or not. So observing how technology and social media affects the ways in which we communicate and perceive the world around us is both thrilling and terrifying to me. As most new ways of culture are.

If we are embarking in a new way of communicating and living, then it is our responsibility to critically look at these things and create dialogue about it – what will we accept? What can we prepare for? What preventative measures can we take? And what can we do to make things easier?
In this podcast the creators and writers of Black Mirror were on speaking about technology and the world we engage in. One of the more interesting points that they have made is that we are all playing a game. Essentially, whether you’re wearing headset with a controller or not you’re a gamer – and to understand that fundamental aspect is important.
They put it like this: think about how you interact with the people around you. You may find yourself speaking differently to coworkers than you would your local barista. You may be more serious with one friend, and self-deprecating in irony with another. There are many versions of “you” that exist. This is pretty natural of humans – we tend to gravitate to different people that bring out different parts of ourselves. However, with the internet on platforms such as Twitter we are attempting to be everything to everyone, we condense our witticisms, insights, thoughts into 140 characters in an attempt to get likes, followers, and retweets. It’s a social game, and not planted in 100% truth. If we understand we’re playing a game, perhaps there will be more peace to the world around us – rather than the feelings of despair that heavy social media users have been found in studies to get from feelings of inadequacy.

This game also isn’t always apparent to the players and the audiences – so in our attempt to be everything to everyone we lose sight of how to be ourselves to anyone. there is a culture of disconnect, as they put it and not with others but primarily to ourselves.
That was an interesting point that the curator stated in the podcast – that she had to get away from Instagram because everything was just “so much.” Every emotion was so extreme, a flower was symbolic of pure joy, or a photo of shoes was pure agony – there was hardly ever an emotion that just was what it was, it vacillated in such extremes. They reminisced on the “meh” culture that used to exist prior to social media where most people were apathetic, rather than this heightened sense of emotions that everyone is putting out everyday. Every day someone’s life is completely altering, someone is having a deep epiphany, and we’re all to care about these people who might awkwardly wave to us in the grocery store or may pretend they did not see us.

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Black Mirror does terrify me because I hadn’t realized until recently that I do see quite a bit of myself in it. Over the weekend a friend had run into someone in another city that I know from where I live. She texted me and told me this and I responded, “That’s neat tell them I said hello.” She later confided in me that this individual thought I was standoffish and dismissive – to the point of almost calling me a bitch. I was stunned. 1. Because ever since high school, knowing how it feels to be a wallflower, I try my hardest to make everyone feel included and 2. because I really had no idea they had this perception of me. Truly blew my mind.
I ruminated on it for awhile, playing back the few interactions we had. Nothing of note comes to mind. No strange interactions. Nothing. Then I thought about this blog, my social media updates, and how I present myself online and realized how much of a contradiction that must be to who I really am in the public sphere.
I enjoy writing, and find I express myself very well in writing. Verbal communication, though…that leaves something to be desired. Often I can’t speak as fast as I think. Or, one verbal thought leads to another and I’m off on tangents. It’s unorganized, whereas with writing I can go back and edit, clean up where I went off, map it together more coherently. But, speaking to people…..there is a lot to consider. Their facial expressions, if they are making eye contact, their body language. My brain, and I think a lot of people who are rather observant, notice these things and I’m constantly assessing how to make the person feel the least amount of discomfort (to the point that I’m making it uncomfortable.)
In public, I have nothing to rely on. If you’re in a bad mood, it isn’t hidden so well by just logging off. Insights can’t be carefully crafted. If you’re excited, you can’t play it cool by just writing “k” emotions play out in real-time in the real-world. My jokes aren’t as clever, I can’t fact check a statement I make quite so quickly, and I can’t think too much about a pun. I just am there, awkward and normal… like a person.

I felt bad that this person had a negative perception of me for a few hours before realizing that it really isn’t about me. Sure, I contribute to some sort of branding on the internet. I certainly seem more social and apt to talk than I might normally be, as I do tend to think of myself as a social loner, but it isn’t about me. It really isn’t even about this other person. Maybe they have their own shit and insecurities and awkwardness. Maybe I am standoffish. I don’t know. And truthfully, I’m not going to spend more time dwelling on it. But it did give me something to think about, which is why I note this here.
But, I do know for certain there have been times where I feel like because someone is an active user on the internet that when I speak to them in “real life” I’m almost insulted by their humanness. Why are you so social and insightful there online with me, but so uncomfortable when you actually see me?
I just hadn’t realized I never asked myself these own questions.

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What are we looking for when we log on? What are we searching for? And what is the end goal when we share selfies? Is this serving a higher purpose? Do we really need feedback from all 500 of our friends about a spiritual insight? Did you really need to know about the bike I just got this weekend? Who was I sharing this for and whose approval am I seeking?
I think we’re all playing this strange game that doesn’t make much sense to me anymore. Like, adding someone on the internet gives you a fast-track look into their history so when we interact we can bypass the parts of actually building friendships, relationships. We’re able to see who their friends are, if we fit in that world, if they have a family, what they do for a living, the kinds of articles they share and images that they are drawn too and see people less like human beings and more like a profile of content and data to analyze and size-up quickly and determine whether or not they fit into our ideal.
I’m so guilty of this.
The strangest, truly weirdest part about social constructs is when you realized how wrapped up in one you have gotten – even when you like to think of yourself as anti-trends and ‘free spirited’
I am not going to disconnect from social media, even from a professional point of view that’s unrealistic for me, but I am going to attempt to be more genuine online and offline – look at how it affects my life very critically and assess the relationships that I have and how are they planted? With deep roots? Or shallow dirt? Furthermore, attempt to bridge the gap between ideal and reality.
I heard somewhere that there is a master algorithm to life and it is this: reality is negotiable.
Seems more true now in the digital world than ever.
We are so so so much more than our online personas. We’re often a lot messier- and I kinda dig that about people anyway. I like all ya’lls crazy.

What do you think?

 

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