Is Facebook Making Us a Society of Personas?

Is Facebook Making Us a Society of Personas?
Courtesy of Pctechmag.com

The craziest scenario keeps running through my mind.

It’s the year 2050 and Mark Zuckerberg is currently the President of the United Nations of the World.  In my vision, Zuckerberg is sitting in a very sterile and futuristic-looking condo that sits high over some city – let’s say Hong Kong – where he observes a room full of people who refer to themselves in the third person (as in “Kay doesn’t eat pork. Pork isn’t healthy for her.”)

Though typical of the way that people converse in 2050, Mark Zuckerberg suddenly feels responsible for how disjointed people have become from themselves.  He then calls Arnold Schwarzenegger and tells him to travel to the year 2004, armed with duct tape and a pellet gun, to ensure that Facebook is never invented.  Cyberdyne and Skynet are also to be destroyed.  In the end, humanity is ultimately saved from itself.

Soon thereafter, I usually vow to discontinue my Facebook and Instagram accounts due to their potentially catastrophic effects on my soul and on mankind.  But moments later I change my mind because I find that the news is much more tolerable if I only see snippets of it in my newsfeed.

Yet the root of the thought is still there, unshakable, as I stroll through my Facebook timeline daily. More and more, I find myself wondering whether Facebook and other social media is forcing us to evolve from ‘people’ into mere personas.

If we tried hard enough, I am sure that we could categorize all Facebook users into one of the following categories:

The Perpetually Happy Person

The Inspirational Speaker

The Political Antagonist

The Neighborhood Preacher, Cleric, or Rabbi

The Celebrity, Once-Removed

The Professional Intellectual

And interestingly enough, every day we can be equally sure that 99.5% of people will stay in their category.  This is particularly curious to me because no one is anything 100% of the time.  There are days when happy people become sad and cynical people become hopeful.  Yet, the psychology behind social media doesn’t seem to encourage deviation from the persona in which one has enthroned thyself.   You post, therefore you are.  And rather than to deviate from your 'persona', most choose to only post things in alignment with it.   Apparently, the key is to make sure that you choose your social media persona wisely, because even if you want to, being yourself isn't always so easy to do.

Last week, when the noted fashion designer, stylist, and model L’Wren Scott committed suicide it made me consider again how social media encourages us to invest so heavily into how we are viewed by others.  Though I had never heard of her or her clothing line prior to her untimely death, something about the title of 'Mick Jagger’s model/fashion designer/stylist/girlfriend' committing suicide seemed erroneous. Yet, despite her seemingly perfect hair, perfect life, and perfect career things were obviously far from such.  

I can’t help but wonder whether despair overcame L’Wren Scott because she was afraid to reveal her truest self or whether it was because of the inability of those around her to show their true selves.  In a world where everything is about what you see, who will dare to present their imperfect selves for public consumption as readily as they display their best selfie, perfect family portrait or image of themselves jet setting around the world? 

Because it’s all about your brand…right?

I watched Bethenny Frankel’s talk show once when Omarosa Manigault was on as a guest.  As the two woman prepared to hash out their preexisting beef with each other on national television, I sat ready to hear all the obvious reasons why one might speak ill of Omarosa.  What I did not expect was for their conversation to center on who had the better “brand”.

Brand?

Not personality.  Not integrity.

Brand.

Et tu Brute Bettenny?

In that moment I realized that gone are the days where genuineness matters.   We have allowed for authenticity to take a backseat to marketability.  As a result, the need for Facebook “Likes” and Twitter Followers have forced people to not be themselves, but to invest insane amounts of time and energy in refining the best and most enviable version of themselves for others to marvel at.

By no means do I mean to imply blame but I can’t help but wonder how L’Wren’s life may have been different if she had tweeted,

“My company is about to close.  Can someone bring a bottle of vodka and a large pepperoni pizza to my office because I need someone to talk to?”

Perhaps nothing would have changed.

But perhaps her willingness to pull the veil back from her seemingly perfect life would have saved her by encouraging someone else to do the same and allowing her to see that she wasn’t alone after all.

 

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    Kay S

    Kay Smith is a Chicago-based freelance writer and blogger who focuses on race, politics and urban culture. Having worked on public policy at the state, regional, city and community level, her opinions have been featured in the Chicago SunTimes and a host of news websites (under very mysterious sounding pseudonyms). Follow her on Twitter @kaywillsmith or contact her at kaywilliamsmith@gmail.com.

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