I’m not a fan of social networking. I find it distracting, invasive, and nauseatingly narcissistic. I don’t wish to see countless photos of people’s food, I don’t care about their poorly written opinions on just about everything , I do not find most of their attempts at 140-character jokes to be all that funny or even interesting, and I especially loathe the lack of any attempt at grammatical conventions, which only make those frequently insipid opinions and observations that much more easy to dismiss.
I also don’t like the way that it fosters a culture of envy and encourages people to play the game of one-upmanship, competing with their Facebook “friends” to craft a more compelling and contrived image of oneself for the sake of fomenting envy in others. Social networking is, largely and at its worst, a platform to both indulge one’s narcissism and cultivate it where it may not yet have metastisized.
But I also recognize that it is an indelible part of our world today, and one may no more wish it away than one may wish away the weather or the release of yet another terrible Adam Sandler movie. I also recognize that despite its flaws, it represents an important tool with enormous potential that is even, occasionally, realized in events that harness that potential and impact the world in a positive way heretofore unavailable prior to the rise of online social networks.
In several essays and discussions on the topic of the new social media landscape, Bret Easton Ellis has characterized this cultural shift and the rise of new media as “post-empire,” describing this new media environment as one in which one’s identity or one’s “brand”—insofar as social networks allow everyone’s identity to be sculpted in such a way as to make them indistinguishable from a brand—is no longer beholden to those traditional seats of authority. In fact, Ellis argues that this mostly has to do with making one’s private identity indistinguishable from one’s public identity. That is, after all, what Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all the rest are about, and even if this all amounts to a “new kind of mask,” Ellis says that it is “more playful than hiding your feelings, presenting your best self, and lying if you have to” (qtd. in Olah).