I came across this interesting little brain nugget that asked ‘Is Social Media a new form of mass hysteria?’ and now I can’t shake that idea. Being a child of the internet the evolution of social media never seemed like a big deal to me. From 90’s message boards, to LiveJournal, to MySpace, to YouTube, to Facebook, to Instagram and everything that came and went in between, I just seized it, used it, and disregarded whatever didn’t suit me. But when you really sit down to think about it, social media has, and constantly is, changing our lives drastically. It is how we keep in touch with friends and non-friends, how we get our news, stay involved with our particular interests, share pictures and opinions, and in essence, shape our image. But we also shape ourselves.
Thanks to social media I now know how people I ran across 10 years ago feel about political issues. I know about their relationship status and whether or not they are depressed or happy. Without social media these people wouldn’t even cross my mind but now I’m almost daily reminded of their existence. The voyeur in me thinks this is awesome. The rest of me is not so sure.
I feel like Facebook is a unique experiment in human history that will never happen on this scale again. Because it was the first of its kind, everyone signed up over the years “just to try it out”. For the first time in internet history the veil of anonymity dropped and everyone could be found by their real name and have their accounts linked into and found by the vast majority of every network you had ever been a part of. Since it was all so new, people would add each other as friends unabashedly which explain why the average number of “friends” range in the 300s. People I hadn’t seen or talked to in 15 years added me, or vice versa when I saw their names pop up under ‘people you may know’, and I still don’t talk to them but now I know somewhat intimate details of their lives. I hope we all realize this will never happen again. Now that we are all savvy to social media when the next big thing comes along, we will be a lot more selective with who we add.
Facebook, for better or worse, has allowed us a unique glimpse into the private lives of hundreds of people. Most of us only sell the ‘highlights’ for public consumption, and this has led to a phenomenon called ‘Facebook depression’ where we all become slightly defeated by the fact that everyone else’s life seems to be infinitely better than our own. I am currently going through what I would label ‘Facebook opinion depression’ which mainly take place on ‘pages’ rather than private profiles and it involved scrolling through hundreds of comments in which people are showcasing, in no particular order, meanness, selfishness, bigotry, ignorance, spitefulness, and sometimes, illiteracy. In you venture into the territory of alternative media, sustainability and activism for environment and new financial/political systems, the level of vitriol can be down right scary. If Facebook has taught us anything it is that daring to think outside the box is still a revolutionary act.
That’s where the link to witch hunts comes in. The thing about the internet is that you can find a home for any opinion. Want to live off the grid? Thousands of people will show you how. Want to justify your racist beliefs? The internet will show you how, and 20 more theories you hadn’t even considered. Just like during the witch trials in Salem, once an idea has taken root and spread, there is very little anyone can do to contain it. The internet paved way for ideas to spread like wildfire, across borders and continents, with little to zero cost. Social media made all these ideas more discoverable. You don’t even have to search for them anymore, they will come to you.
Throughout my childhood I used to marvel at the fact that I was born into this modern time. I also used to pity anyone born before me because it meant they wouldn’t live as long as me to see the awesomeness that the future would surly be. Ah, the ignorance and bliss of youth. I also wanted to freeze myself when the technology became available, to be unfrozen for one year every 100 years so I could experience the even more awesome future, but I digress…
For all the knowledge we have accumulated for the past 20,000 years, for all the technological wonders, we are still a very young and immature species. After dedicating three years of my life studying sustainability full time I have almost come up with a definition of sustainability. It is the study of how human systems work within the larger environmental systems. Safe to say, we are doing a crap job at that. See, no one told me this when I started my studies (and I kind of think that was on purpose) but in order to achieve sustainability we have to question every single aspect of why we have designed our system the way it is. I think most of us would agree that this design is mostly accidental and it happened gradually – we simply added more layers when new layers became necessary due to technological developments. There is no shame in admitting that most of the time we don’t know what the hell we’re doing.
But it seems, at least when taking a sample slice from social media, that questioning the story of how the system came to be is a mortal sin. The most vocal group is the BlindCapitalism religion in which if you dare to offend the Godlike logic of the free market you will be lectured to death. Blame Yourself for Poverty is a movement pretty much exclusive to the United States but it manages to spew some of the most out of this world cruelty that I have ever come across. Even when faced with stark evidence that poverty is systemic; it is passive violence inflicted upon vulnerable citizens by the controlling structure; they will find some biting line about bootstraps or miraculous story about their grandfather (who must have lived within a system that allowed for upwards mobility). In our current system poverty is a weapon used to remind the good citizens of western societies what happens if you don’t follow the rules. And there is always the delightful crowd of “I got mine so I’m not gonna change for no one”. But what else can you expect in a society that breeds selfishness and competition; where every advertising billboard and TV ad screams at you “YOU ARE WORTH IT, YOU DESERVE IT, YOU WORK HARD!” I’m sure you can come up with several categories of your own so please post them below. (Treehuggers and hippie insults included.)
To combat this trend I want to start an idea board of what we need to change in order to have that better world we all secretly dream of. I feel like I’m always coming up with ideas, but then disregard it because it would be too difficult to implement under the current system of Work to Live, Live to Work. I think the three main categories would be Work, Live, Play. If we improve the Work part of our lives, we’ll have more time to Live, which means more time to Create or Play.
– To the best possible extent, get rid of commuting to and from work. I think this endless trek back and forth is the main source of unhappiness in daily life. Not to mention all the pollution it causes and the hundreds of millions of hours it wastes every day among otherwise productive citizens. This would mean a huge restructuring in how we even see ‘jobs’ and it would serve to illuminate the pointless ones that are there mainly to keep people busy.
– With less time spent doing tasks that serve to make rich people even richer, we can connect with our communities and neighbors. In a capitalistic system, this would be called volunteering where we freely give help and services that we otherwise would charge money for. In a capitalistic system this has low value with only social status in return. But in society where we spent less time working for money, it would free up time we would spend cultivating our gifts and sharing them with others, which in return would make money even more obsolete since our gifts and talents are so diverse. A masseuse therapist could exchange appointments for food or art or other health services. A fashion designer could exchange clothes. A carpenter, a plumber, a fireman, a pilot, ect. The options are endless. I don’t understand why most people think everyone would just lay around all day if money ceased to exists. Sure, being a plumber isn’t the most glamorous job but it really helps people out. Are you telling me every single plumber works every day solely for money? I’m really asking. Would people stop running small family hotels, would people stop being life guards at the beach if the allure of money was removed? And how can we get past this belief?
– Grow gardens! With more free time we can focus on the fundamentals of life, such as grow, prepare and eat healthy food.
Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.