We have another layer of foundation to lay before we dive into the minutia of our internet age. If we’re to understand the effects of the internet and social media, we need to first understand how the platforms are utilized. I’m not going to explain social media to you as though I know more, so let’s put that assumption to rest. The idea of maintaining an internet presence via a social media profile isn’t in and of itself a bad thing, but that’s assuming such a platform is being used responsibly and honestly. In case you haven’t noticed, that isn’t the case. Leaving wholly fraudulent accounts aside, the accounts of real people can be just as dishonest and disingenuous.
The title of this part suggests a sort of disconnect between one’s present reality and their online avatar. When cultivating one’s own personality, reputation, and image in the real world, a person can only be so dishonest before people begin to notice. You can only claim to be an accomplished mountain climber for so long before your lack of expertise and evidence betray your fabrication. That’s just classic lying. It’s still bad, and I’m not excusing it, but manufacturing an online façade is a much more elaborate endeavor – and harder to disprove.
Unlike real life, you input your own information into a social media profile. You could portray yourself however you want – and therein lies the problem. Given the freedom to populate your own profile with personal information, the temptation to embellish proves too much for some. To put it plainly, you can fudge it all. Ashamed about being single? Say you’re in a relationship. No job? Make one up. Embarrassed about your introversion? Post statuses that paint you as the life of the party. Anything you wish to change about yourself is within your grasp. You can make yourself the way you wish you were and that’s the you that most people – outside of people whom you regularly see – will see you.
This is especially true of social justice causes. Now, to be clear, the social justice warrior in the traditional sense – protesting, visiting elected officials, circulating petitions, and sticking it to an unjust establishment – is absolutely commendable. We need people like that. But, the internet isn’t populated by a majority of those do-gooders. It’s populated by people projecting some sort of message, which I’ll grant they likely believe in, in order to be associated with a cause. A brief status about the rolling back of a woman’s autonomy is on the correct side of history, but does little other than frame the poster as righteous. Better to post than not, I suppose, but these causes need action. My cynicism is showing, I’ll move on.
As if it wasn’t troubling enough to make your online avatar the ultimate version of yourself – a lie – the trouble is that the delusion must be upheld. You’ve got to keep up appearances, a difficult task that causes the formation of a certain dichotomy in your brain. On one hand, perhaps you’re a single introvert with no job, but online you’re an extrovert in a relationship with a lucrative occupation. Now, obviously one of those is the desirable image and the other is the truth. But, in keeping up that online appearance you begin to believe that the internet you is the real you. You put so much into projecting success that you begin to believe it. To be clear, I’m talking about delusion, not having a positive self-image. A positive self-image is excellent and those lucky enough to be happy with themselves have got a degree of comfort and happiness that some, unfortunately, will never achieve. I digress. The discrepancy between the avatar and reality is a dangerous one. This disconnect leads to a new, unprecedented form of dissociation.
It’s not just blatant lying on social media platforms that flavor your online presence to your liking, there’s also dishonesty by omission. Perhaps you are honest in that all of the information on your profile is true. So far, so good. However, I’ve yet to encounter a person so honest as to represent themselves warts and all on their social media profile. Generally, they show the good – vacation photos, meals, drinks, parties, nights out – but that’s where it ends. To everyone else looking on, the person to whom this profile belongs must really be something. They are, but what you’re seeing is only a portion of a bigger picture. Vacation photos are great, but vacations are the minority of one’s life. There is danger on multiple levels in projecting this cultured and worldly avatar. First, you tend to believe the representation of yourself to be the whole truth. This delusion cannot stand. Secondly, and arguably more important, is that your projection of success and luxury as the whole of your content leaves others wanting for more in their own lives. If only this translated to self-improvement, but it generally doesn’t. It leads to depression about one’s life circumstances that may or may not be in their control.
The avatar/reality discrepancy is no joke. It may be the seeds of our demise as a functioning and honest society. The truth is being eroded all over the internet. It’s hard to know what end is up, what’s real, and what actually matters. What matters is subjective, but for some, the truth has become subjective as well. If I believe it, it’s true. That isn’t how reality works. If we’re to overcome present strife and birth a society based on unity, social media needs to take a much less prominent role – or better yet, no role at all.