I was watching the Emmys on Sunday night and had “a moment.” I think it hit before Modern Family won its 17th award, and after the intro song and dance, whose sardonic tone left me with that uneasy feeling unique to Hollywood spiraling flames like Larry David engulfing himself in an incredibly awkward faux pas, or Lindsay Lohan teetering yet again on the verge of self-destruction.
So the moment…As the cameras were circling in on actors’ reactions to the results or the half-baked jokes being thrown across the stage, I had that sensation many people have when you look at celebrities, namely (artificial) closeness and the contagion of their laughs or frowns (pun intended). There’s no “aha” in that, but what struck me over the course of the next day, and particularly as I examined the infographic below, is how much picture-driven social media is creating a celebrity culture among us common folk. As individuals document every moment of life and in turn, share piecemeal tidbits of information, we too create seemingly picturesque projections of ourselves, ripe for storytelling.
Social media naysayers often argue that as a result of Facebook and the like, we spend more time in the digital world than the real world, that people are constantly on their phones in the middle of dinner, and that strangers no longer talk to each other in person. Yada yada yada. While there is definitely some structural adjustment that needs to happen to improve the civility of “post-social, post-mobile human to human interaction,” I’m not convinced that social media is to blame for unraveling of decent social interaction, or whatever yarn you want to spin.
FIRST, and most basically, society changes over time. While it’s darn sure changing pretty quickly, I’m not particularly yearning for the mythic era of common decency 50ish years ago in which women and minorities had no rights, or worse. The longing for the “good ‘ol days” is getting old, though it does make for good films (e.g., Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris).
SECOND, visual or textual fragments (i.e., tumblr blogs) can actually be quite beneficial in helping to inform our understanding of one another. Viscerally, a collection of images – personal or inspired – seems less overtly constructed than a profile that lists Kurt Vonnegut and Led Zeppelin as favorites. So I think we’re moving in the right direction of show v. tell. Also, the same way we know we are in a living room because we see a couch and TV, identities too can be viewed as the summation of social cues. From the article linked above, an interesting quote:
“I think it’s neat that a sum of the information from the objects is what makes up the scene, as far as the LOC is concerned,’ Bernhardt-Walther says. ‘There is no additional magical ingredient. There’s no scene glue somewhere.”
THIRD, because so many people use social media in a celebrity-esque / broadcasting manner, I probably know a little more about a lot of people. As a result, the tradeoff is not “digital life v. real life,” and perhaps it’s not even a question of quantity over quality. As a result of social networking, we talk to more people, engage in more relationships, and are probably more likely to maintain them. For those not inclined to multitask, that can be problematic…On a similar note, having hundreds of “friends” is totally absurd according to traditional conceptions of friendship. But if we rethink the concept of “friend” to reflect some level of intimacy through shared knowledge, perhaps it’s no longer crazy to think about holding onto evolving tidbits of people’s daily lives. The same way I might have a delusional slip and believe I intimately know Ryan Gosling after reading an article and seeing him in a film, it’s also easy to feel closer to the random person from college whose engagement photos popped up into my Facebook feed.
If the Kardashians can build their fame on revealing themselves publicly, I’m inclined to believe it’s fair game for the masses. To me, the problem arises when (1) we tread back into overt profile construction territory and sound more like PR reps than real people, (2) if we forget to treat others respectfully as a result of “universe of one” thinking, or (3) if Bravo were to accommodate everyone with their own reality show, although by now, there’s probably an app for that.