The aspirational profile picture, a touchstone of self in the time of solipsistic reverie…
With the right to be forgotten recently enshrined into European law and the ensuing wringing of hands about what this could mean for our digital lives, I’ve been reflecting on what happens prior to the need to return to anonymity.
Our digital personas, no matter how carefully cultivated, can only be a simulacra of our physical lives. That isn’t to say that social media is in every sense not real; the information that is transmitted and received can have real-world consequences. However, that information is only as real as any other story, it is a kind of creation, neither fiction nor actuality.
I am interested in the collective (but mostly tacit) understanding that we have reached around the verifiability of the online self-projection.
With the acknowledgement that social media is but a projection, there has been a lowering of the ‘burden of proof’ that accompanies the acceptance of online personal factoids. Much in the same way that there is a universal expectation that one’s C.V. should be an ‘amplification’ of one’s life representation, so it is with the social feed.
Unlike a résumé that crosses the line into outright mendacity, it would be churlish to question much of what appears in your online stream, for nothing is really at stake is it? And who amongst us would be able to cast that first stone?
The abstraction of our selves via social media is digital technology working its inexorable magic on the personal realm. Writing, music, film and visual art have all succumbed; touch it up, edit it to the ‘nth’ degree, polish and publish.
The ‘real’ recedes ever further into the distance. Even performances that appear to occur in real-time aren’t immune as the collective expectation is to see performances that have had all the human element (chaff?) cut out, in order that they may match what our ears have been listening to for some years now.
I’m not advocating a return to analogue technologies or techniques. This isn’t about whether you listen to your favourite albums on vinyl or on Pono (remember them?).
The technology is but the conduit; what’s the idea that led to the technology being developed? Primarily, digital facilitates the telling of a perfected story, one that would not be possible (or very difficult to implement) without that same technology.
As a species, we appear to have a predilection for stories. Stories, like music, are a feature of all human societies – they have always entertained and educated.
But I, for one, do not want to live in a world constructed by or interpreted via stories alone.
Stories aren’t entirely benign. They have a powerful effect on us and that power can (and historically has been) co-opted for political gain.
In the digital era, stories are, through technology, abstracted further from reality than was ever possible previously and yet their star continues to rise. To what end I wonder?
They offer an anodyne for the visceral, often painful experience of living.
They are not, nor should they ever be, a replacement for it.