Social Tragedy

There is much you can learn about a person from their Facebook page alone. You can learn what they are interested in, what movies they enjoy, where they go to school, where they work…you get the picture. It has the potential to make taking the effort to get to know somebody obsolete.

This is a terrible thing.

Online social networks could be called simulacrums. This is a postmodern concept, where the thing in question is meant to be a representation of something in reality, but actually lacks an external referent. It is a pure simulation; it is representation incarnate. What is Facebook but a simulacrum? It is meant to represent community; it simulates people living in the same space, 24-7. With smart phones, that consistent contact is possible; if you’re like me and never turn off your phone, there is never a time that you arent connected to Facebook. However, such a community doesnt exist; social networks don’t have an external referent.

Since Facebook is representation incarnate, it follows that anything that takes place on Facebook is a simulation of social interaction. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that all interactions on Facebook are simulacrums, but I would say that most of them lack substance. Related specifically to getting to know someone, if this is done over Facebook, you haven’t actually learned who the person is. If you are like me, there’s a certain persona you adopt online. Whether this persona is actually part of who you are, or if it’s taken from an external source, it is not you; the full picture of who you are is not being presented online. Even in writing this blog, I have adopted the persona of an intellectual, a thinker. This is part of my individuality, but it is not the full picture of who I am.

However, by adopting a persona, you are making this claim: “Ryan Cook = Intellectual.” What this means is that you amount to nothing more than the persona, at least online. You have created a person who bears no resemblance to the actual individual, because the true individual is not just their online persona in reality; the online persona lacks an external referent. In other words, the online persona is a pure simulacrum. So, if you are learning about an individual through their interactions on Facebook, you are not actually learning about the individual. You are only learning about their persona; you have met a pure simulacrum.

This might seem like a rabit trail, but it leads into the discussion of how social networks have the potential to destroy our efforts to actually get to know someone and why this is terrible (although you might not need much convincing to accept the latter claim).

How often have you added someone on Facebook that you have only just met, and after that you don’t really hang out with them in person? Your interactions with them are limited to Facebook? I can think of quite a few people on my Facebook page where that is the case, and you most likely can as well.

Why is this so? You are already being fed the illusion of getting to know them via their various status updates, or by the information they have posted about themselves on their profile. This prevents us from actively learning more about the person because we think we are already learning about them, thus we don’t feel the need to reach out to them personally. This is illusory precisely because most, if not all people adopt a particular persona online. While it is likely already part of who they are as an individual, it does not represent the whole individual. As I said before, this persona is a pure simulacrum because it lacks a true external referent. Although we think this persona truly represents the individual behind the profile page, the odds are it doesn’t. Therefore, I propose that social networks destroy “getting to know someone” in two ways:

  1. You feel that you know someone because of the information posted on their profile page, whether it be in their “About Me”, “Interests”, or various status updates. Therefore, you don’t feel the need to reach out to them. (I realize that I have already said this)
  2. The person you are “getting to know” is a pure simulacrum; the person on Facebook lacks a true external referent. You are not learning about who you think you’re learning about.

    From my experience, the consequence of this is shallow, if not non-existent, interactions with the actual individual in person. The safety of the computer screen is gone; you no longer have the ability to interact with this complete stranger. You do not interact with them well beacuse you do not truly know them, and you don’t feel the need to get to know them because you have been deceived into thinking that you do know them. Thus, I conclude that social networks have the potential power to destroy human relationships.

    As always, anything and everything I write is open to criticism and debate. If you have any questions, comments, or criticisms, feel free to post a comment or write a post in response.

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