I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.
― Johannes Kepler
In his prophetic novel, 1984, George Orwell created Oceania, a dystopian society overseen by “Big Brother,” who monitors citizens on “Telescreens” to keep them compliant to the totalitarian agenda.
But in my opinion, in 2020, social media is the (virtual) bully on the block in terms of thought-control, the affirmation-driven elements of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others, the “Likes” and “Follows,” for example, posing a rising threat to autonomy and mind independence.
While you might think me an anti-technology crank (I am, by the way), it’s common for many online users, in the quest for recognition, to create exaggerated and misleading personas, bending or breaking truths to conform to what is popular or currently trending. And don’t we all know people who share the most mundane activities (#chewinggumandlikingit) online? Do they think it valuable to the public to disseminate such information, or are they really working through an existential panic?
The French philosopher Rene Descartes postulated, “I think; therefore I am.” But might he today change “I think” to “I post.” And while Orwell said, “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever.” I say, “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever – on YouTube.”
No doubt, social media has many benefits, but it also has the potential to damage, such as creating ‘praise junkies,” individuals, as per the Urban Dictionary, who constantly seek/crave praise and attention and highlight everything good they achieve in order to get praise.
As with all addictions, an unhealthy reliance on affirmation can cause psychological damage. Beverly D. Flaxington, in Psychology Today, noted: “…social media users whose self-confidence is lacking can become more anxious or depressed over what others seem to have and they don’t. That nagging feeling of not being able to measure up will only lead to less self-confidence and an erosion of self-worth.” Further, similar to the escalating cycle of addiction, the more affirmation one gets, the more they need to derive the same satisfaction.
Novelist Samuel Johnson wrote: “Praise, like gold and diamonds, owes its value to scarcity.” But in the purview of social media, Praise, unlike gold and diamonds, owes its value to excess.
In sum, in a society steeped in selfies, where conceit and deception is often rewarded with followers, are we not the living embodiment of Winston Smith’s words, the hero of 1984, who concluded this about the proles in Oceania: “Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.”
I say it’s time to put down our mobiles and start this process.
A version of this post was previously published on The Democratic Chronicle