I have seen a plethora of theories about how social media, the internet, and mass media in general is driving us insane by increasing the number of shut-ins and people who forgo real life social interaction for the sad-sack replacement of dehumanizing cyberspace. They are so common as to not be worth summing up once again here. While I certainly agree that the internet seems to have weaponized a specific type of cheap and clueless discourse that lacks depth and seems to empower the most hysterical and autistic-leaning elements of public speech at the expense of all else, I disagree on why this is with the mainstream theories that are out there.
I believe it is over-socialization, rather than under-socialization, that is the true bugbear of this problem. The internet is enabling more connectivity than ever before, and in so doing it is abolishing private space to think and reflect. This is hardly a new process-it clearly began with television-but it is being accelerated more than ever before by social media in particular. We see people’s opinions unfiltered whereas before they would either have to be teased out or would naturally come out as part of a normal conversation between people who at least sort of know each other. Cyberspace may be filled to the brim with posturing and fakeness but all of human social interaction is. It is just more on display than ever before. Everyone no matter how irrelevant can now behave as golden age of Hollywood celebrities types do…and since our society idolizes those very people it becomes a model to emulate.
None of this is really any faker than normal interaction, it is just jacked up to 11 and dosed with a big helping of agoraphobia. The true alienation is with nature and the outdoors, not with human civilization. It is humanity that is in fact being overdosed on. If people are withdrawing from social interaction in the real world it may very well be because they already have too much of it online.
So what we are seeing with the widespread panics and ever more rapidly shifting zeitgeist of cultural wars, tribalization, and the like is really what happens when we are trained to be too social. People have too many ‘friends’. They have too many people watching them and care about the approval of too many outside forces. Privacy has been abolished as a value and to tune out of the mainstream is now a freakish occurrence rather than a respectable one. A contemporary definition of a thinker is now someone who tweets approval-seeking self-marketing in a desperate bid to thrive in the gig economy. I don’t think any but the most obnoxious among us were designed to be exposed to other people so much for such a large percentage of our waking hours. We need quiet to really be with ourselves. One of the biggest turn-offs for me when I meet a new person are those who clearly cannot be alone with themselves for long stretches of time. It implies that they have little of interest going on inside save perhaps for insecurity.
How does one combat this trend of over-socialization? Well, it is easy. You don’t fully have to disconnect…but rather take a step back and realize that when you say you need ‘me time’ or whatever it is you want to call it, that this also requires that said solo time is removed from the internet, television, or anything like that. Time to oneself, when a person’s most interesting thoughts occur since they are not simply being shaped by extremely temporary trends, is key to self-cultivation. And self-cultivation is nearly impossible in an over-socialized environment. Reading full books rather than articles is a start, but I would say that getting outside and adopting physical hobbies is also a part of it. Writing, even just for practice, helps too. Exploring a city on foot can even work as people who live among high population densities are very good at tuning other people out for necessities sake-a skill perhaps needed on highly trafficked social media websites as well.
Nature is among my favorite refuges. Nothing reminds one more of how things work without pretense than physical processes and less mentally cluttered other animals. The (fictional) writing I do is often most effectively inspired by trips I take to naturally beautiful locations for hiking or whatnot. Much like the life you live in meatspace, your online life should be regulated to a level that works best for you without overloading your own personal time. Otherwise you end up like an algorithm of a person with no depth of character. A human Marvel movie constructed for mass consumption rather than actual contribution beyond immediate gratification. It is the irony of the present times that those who feel the need to be most in tune with current trends are the ones basically guaranteeing their thoughts have no staying power. These are the people who will be first to fade into irrelevance.
The first step is to realize that while humans are social animals, this too must be held in moderation along with our other instincts. To have a meaningful contribution to others in the first place one must first be able to step back and look at things from an angle different from merely going along unthinkingly with trends.
Of course, there are entire industries based around relieving and avoiding self-reflection, so we have a society that incentivizes people not to really be quiet with themselves. But even in order to see that relatively mundane observation, it requires the knowledge that you are being manipulated…and that in turn requires some sense of distance.
One announcement regarding the future of this blog-and no, it is not related to the above post. I recently started a position where I will do a lot of foreign policy and strategic writing. Unlike my prior time at the State Department where most of what I wrote was not for public output, this one will be. So, with that being a big part of my near future I feel that is likely that the percentage of foreign policy specific topics on this blog will decrease in proportion to the other topics I like such as philosophy, history, domestic politics (of various nations), etc. When I write something particularly on topic for this blog elsewhere I will probably just link to it with a brief statement and then get to another topic.
I will not cease writing about foreign policy topics here, I am merely stating that its proportion will decrease. And even then, book reviews on that topic are almost certainly staying as is when it comes to output.