Image via Wikipedia Why are so many people, myself included, connecting to and engaging in online communities? Are “listening to the conversation” and “sharing,” the two main reasons that many of us participate in social media? Perhaps, it’s the spreading of “personal branding” that excites us, gives us the chance to personally manage and influence our online reputation. Or, is it something different? In an essay written in 1964 entitled, “Fame: Hopes and Horrors,” E.M. Cioran writes, “If each of us were to confess his most secret desire, the one that inspires all his plans, all his actions, he would say: ‘I want to be praised.’ No one will make such a confession, for it is less shameful to commit an abomination than to proclaim so pitiable and so humiliating a weakness, looming out of a feeling of solitude and insecurity from which both the fortunate and the rejected suffer with equal intensity (107).” Is Cioran’s way of thinking relevant to today’s flux of social networking sites?
What is it about social networking sites that fuel our desire to engage, to discuss or to network with unknown others? Perhaps, for some, it is the lust for “information,” having to keep abreast of new technological developments and web applications. The rush of being the first person to blog about a new development or news story constantly flows through my Twitter feed. It is impossible to engage in a “real” conversation through the use of micromedia, all one can do is comment or summarize. However, beneath the visual interface of the application, how do we communicate through these tools and how do they serve to influence our sense of self? Before writing this article, I announced through Twitter that I was about to start this article. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time and it provided a sense of connectedness to some larger body of people. What was my purpose, though, in sending that Tweet? How strange to think about how “connected” we all are through the interface of these machines. Perhaps, “deep down” we can relate to Cioran. How wonderful it would have been, had someone thought to write back a short reply, praising my efforts or showing some interest toward the endeavor. No one did. There is a kind of self-pride that flows through the use of these sites, an inflated sense of who we think we are and who we want ourself to be. Nonetheless, having 5,000 followers on Twitter doesn’t have anything to do with any kind of “conversation,” only noise.
The wish to be praised seems such a harmless one. The validation that occurs at a live performance or after a great speech fills the performer with a sense of validation and, perhaps, with the lust for more. Why do so many people want to be on TV, even as an extra in a non-speaking role? Is it because the work is easy? Is it because the pay is decent for the amount of work done? It seems that the world of TV gives one the chance to enter into a hyper-version of reality, a reality that feels more real than real. Why does it make people so happy to watch the misfortune of others through the interface of the screen?
In a productive society, the will to be creative, the drive to create and shape things, brings happiness. The sharing of those things with others also brings happiness, but in what ways? Is it the pure giving of the creation to another, a pure selfless act? Or, is it the feeling of pride that one gets when one gives the object to the other person? In Japan, when someone gives a gift, it is common to say something like “This is a boring gift for you.” Although, in native Japanese, the expression doesn’t translate as harshly as when put into English, the meaning is basically the same. The gift is verbally degraded, although it is probably a very nice or thoughtful present. This degrading of oneself is common in this situation. The recipient of the gift should praise the gift and the gift-giver. One only needs to look at the glimmer in the eye of the giver to see the happiness that comes from giving and the happiness that comes from being praised.
Is the way out of this flux, simply to turn off the computer and disconnect from the applications? Does this need to be praised surface in all other areas of our life? Is this our lot in life? If so…