We're all familiar with the philosophical question about a tree falling in the forest. But what about a modern permutation? If you have a deep thought, a frustration, or an accomplishment - is it real if you don't share it on social media?
Upon first reading, that may seem ridiculous, but let that set in. This something I've been thinking about recently given all the noise made about the banning of selfie sticks in tourist destinations around the world. While people argue about safety issues, isolation in public spaces, and boorish ettiquette, I can't help but think about the fact that the selfie stick is a tool in advancing the ongoing construction of our self-image. While some sharing is more personal (sending a text message for example), much of the sharing of pictures is done through social media.
I write this post fully cognizant of the fact that I participate in this culture. It's another modern mutation, this time of the cult of personality. In the traditional sense, this referred to the deification of leaders (commonly Stalin or Mao), aggrandising their accomplishments and character. Typically this was done in print, with newspapers and pamphlets leading the charge. Think of the rather laughable exploits of Kim Jong Il, available here.
In our modern world, we use the internet to share our exploits. And sometimes to exaggerate them. Or outright lie about them. I think a reasonable question to ask ourselves is, are we often doing things just to share them on social media? Is the attention that we get from these accomplishments a large part of our motivation? There has been rising interest in climbing Mount Everest, and I'd posit that a large part of this is the ability to share your accomplishment with others. It also explains the popularity of apps that share fitness accomplishments like Strava.
The phenomenon of building our online profiles is called crafting. There was a lot in the news about crafting last year, and I am curious as to why the talk of crafting hasn't been grafted into the current debate about selfies. We consume media about our friends and infer much about their interests, values, and personalities through their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social media.
Here's a case study about the impacts of crafting. I read a great article last week about how people are apt to share articles, often poorly researched, about science in order to look like they are knowledgeable or interested in science. There is a wide proliferation, accordingly, of junk science that has survived on account of crafting.
Because I am comfortable enough with criticism, I've taken a look back on my own Facebook profile to look at what I have been sharing. In the past month or so, my posts have been related to:
Sharing articles that broadcast my values (11 times)
Adding photos that show I was in Europe and Asia (4 times)
Promoting my blog (3 times)
Getting a new job (1 times)
Epic walking (1 time)
A picture of a ticket to the first show my band played (1 time)
These examples show what I evidently want others to see of me - someone who likes travel, writing, politics, music, and being a teacher. I'd encourage you to take a look at your wall and see what you have shared.
I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with living a life of sharing on social media. I think there is a possible concern with doing it without being aware of what you're doing. I frankly believe it would be impossible to engage with social media without ever broadcasting who you are. Ultimately, some elements of crafting are more overt or pernicious than others, but it is inescapable in the online world. I'll just note that I think it's worthwhile reflecting on what it means to share, before you share.