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Who/What Are We, Really? Part 2

When I was growing up, the ‘social medium’ was the real, physical world – going out, meeting friends, face-to-face, hanging out, mucking about, getting into trouble, chatting, laughing, arguing, joking, playing, etc. Telephones were a tool used only to arrange the next real life get-together.

Not only my sense of self-worth, but my ability to interact, learn, communicate, recognise moods, ‘read’ and interact productively, accurately and effectively with my fellow human beings was born from these experiences and events.

Real, flesh and blood friends (and, of course, real flesh and blood ‘foes’, too). I came to understand the ‘tells’; the subtle signs of fake and genuine responses.

Culture inexorably changes. The triggers and influences of such change are numerous and varied.

For instance, the influence of the internet has been staggeringly huge. A powerful medium for the expression of the best and worst humankind can offer.

While the rapid dissemination of information has, again and again, wrong-footed and exposed the overall, self-serving, power-clutching machinations of those who seek to control… well, let’s be honest…Absolutely Bloody Everything – these latter-day Machiavellis have hardly been slouches when it comes to fogging up the field and conning almost entire populations into thinking they act in humanity’s best interests.

The internet has also thrown up the insidious and fickle monster of ‘social’ media.

While, in one way, a formidable tool for sharing ideas, information and news denied us by the sock-puppet journal-liars of the corporate media, it is also digital Soma for masses of desperate approval-seekers.

Cultural facets of the day bleed into one another. (I can’t tell you the Herculean level of self-restraint I need to muster in order to avoid breaking the fingers of someone using air quotes and trilling “Hashtag: {something or other}” at me).

The concept of ‘having friends’ used to invoke a different scale of worth than it seems to now.

I now find myself hesitating to use the word ‘friends’ specifically because of the cheapening of the concept by its association with social media.

Believe me, those extra numbers beneath your profile picture are no more ‘friends’ of yours than the ‘points’ you pick up with your supermarket shopping.

Yet, there is the presumption of correlation between how many ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ we have and how validated and ‘important’ to the world we feel.

To some, it seems, it is precisely that: Validation.

Whence this need to be noticed and ‘liked’; to have one’s existence and views acknowledged and approved of?

It is a sense of self-worth so dependent upon the reception of your opinion/outlook/musical taste/pet/newborn child/choice of breakfast by people who are, in all other ways, strangers who know nothing about you other than what you ‘share’ – however ‘true’ that was.

And this whole dynamic is a two-way street, of course.

Perversely, social media interaction shares another common trait with the worst kind of conversation partner – they really aren’t as interested in what you have to say as they are in increasing their own posting footprint and ubiquity in the forums.

Look at me. I’m the go-to guy for wit/truth/memes/politics/valid opinion/commentary/funny pets/wisdom/life, etc. Keep those feed lines coming!”

And we all know this deep down. We do, don’t we? But we are, by nature, a social species. We need the feel-good reward of company and the confirmation that we are not alone in thinking what we think and liking what we like.

Validation.

Now algorithms find like-minded people for us to bounce our posts off. This yields increasing return as the algorithms fold us into comfortable echo chambers ringing with self-affirming likes, repeated approval and confirmation that we *are* a worthwhile, appreciated member of the species.

We seem to spend more time developing and honing our online avatars than our true, real life selves.

What does that say about us?

Shadows and dust, all.

As for me, I have my own definition of ‘Friend’ and I’ll take that over any fickle number display in the corner of my screen, any day.

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