Instant Individualities on Social Media


              Social media has given us the truly wonderful tool of self-expression, but with it, an immediacy that makes depth and reflection impossible. Thinking takes time, but the internet culture does not allow it. As soon as an event happen, individuals turn into journalists, read an article or two on the matter, talk with a person or two, and give out their opinion right away, before the next hot topic. There is a constant need to be current in order to be relevant. And the internet compels us to participate, not to miss out. It makes us believe that our two cents are important.

            Most particularly, comment threads are simultaneous, “live,” while being delayed at the same time due to typing. Writing is the art of the thinker, who contextualizes, reflects, problematizes, introspects. Conversation is the art of the diplomat, who discusses, shares, listens, challenges, contributes, “extrospects.” I like German writer Kleist’s ideas in On the Gradual Production of Thoughts during Speech. In both the written and spoken word, in order to be productive and thoughtful, a great dose of empathy and calm is needed, or you fall into the trap of wanting to defend your opinion coûte que coûte, which is not productive whatsoever. Your pride is at stake. And this is often what happens in discussions over social media. It falls between the cracks of literature and conversation and between the cracks of temporality. It is neither for thinkers nor for diplomats.

                And with your name and picture next to everything you write/say, how can you not feel that your self is at stake in these discussions? Your markers of identity are omnipresent. Your individuality and subjectivity take the whole space (literally and figuratively). You are your opinion; your opinion is you. This is emphasized to the extreme by the tools for reacting, liking, and sharing. Fight to the death for your pride; what your text is defending comes second. And this is made extremely obvious by not only the content, but also the choice of words and sentence structures, which subtly or directly attack rather than reflect and discuss. I am responding to your opinion rather than adding my own to yours. I am responding to you, not discussing with you (conversation) or reflecting (literature). Therein lies the problem of instantaneous written words that are shared online. As well, because of its aforementioned features, social media culture compels one to share their opinion on any matter, in order to affirm one’s identity. I post my opinion therefore I exist. If one does not react (like, comment, share, etc.), then one does have an opinion, and one’s identity is erased. Your name and your picture are absent. Your picture and your name show first (as the picture is left, so what we read first in Western languages, and then the name, which is on top); only after (and last) the content of your post is read. And in a context where there is a massive amount of people and information, length and depth are discouraged, even explicitly so, through character limits. The immediacy, briefness, and prominence of markers of identity in social media posts hinder productivity and empathy on sensitive topics and texts of opinion.

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