I Share. Therefore I Am.

by Rachel Gertz

Haunting. We’re all going to die. Alone—our Facebook statuses still updating our final breaths in a pathetically humorous way.

Audio transcription:

“A simple thought. Monkeys that are known to have a developed social life organize is social groups of several dozen members. The size of each of these groups is limited. In oder for them to function, all members of the group need to know each other well. The average size of the group changes from 20 to 50 members. When the number of monkeys in a group passes a certain threshold, the social order crumbles and the group tends to split into two separate groups. A similar situation can be found amongst humans as well. The invention of language and gossip has helped shape larger and more stable groups.

Sociological research indicates that the maximum natural size of a group is roughly 150 members. Most humans are just incapable of intimately knowing more than 150 people, so even today the threshold of human organization is around the number of 150 members.

Man is a social creature and the feeling of loneliness can drive him mad. Yet the western modern world sanctions individuality. The individual is measure by personal achievements such as having a career, wealth, a self image, and consumerism. In this course of action, many people lose their source of social and familial connections, in favour of a self actualization ideal. As the social fabric in the western world weakens, it is not surprising that more and more people define themselves as lonely. And thus, loneliness has become the most common ailment of the modern world.

One of the possible reasons for this ailment is the online social network. In a world where time is money, in which our surroundings heavily pressure us to achieve more and more, our social life becomes tainted and more demanding than ever before. And then there’s technology. Simpler, hopeful, optimistic, ever young. We become addicted to virtual romance, disguised by the social network which supplies an impressive platform that allows us to manage our social life most effectively. However, our fantasies about substitutions are taking a toll.

We’re collecting friends like stamps, not distincting [sic] quality versus quantity, and converting the deep meaning of intimacy and friendship with exchanging photos and chat conversations. By doing so, we’re sacrificing conversation for mere connection, and so a paradoxical situation is created in which we claim to have many friends while actually being lonely.

So what is the problem with having a conversation? Well, it takes place in real time, and you can’t control what you’re going to say and that is the bottom line. Texting, email, posting, all of these things let us present the self as we want it to be. We get to edit, and that means we get to delete. Instead of building true friendships, we’re obsessed with endless personal promotion. Investing hours on end building our profile, pursuing the optimal order of words in our next message, choosing the pictures in which we look our best, all of which is meant to serve as a desirable image of who we are.

We’re expecting more from technology and less from each other. The social networks aren’t just changing what we’re doing, but also who we are, and that’s because technology appeals to us most where we are most vulnerable. And we are vulnerable. We are lonely, but we are afraid of intimacy, while the social networks offer three gratifying fantasies. One, that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be. Two, that we will always be heard. And three, that we will never have to be alone.

And that third idea, that we will never have to be alone, is central to changing our psyches. It’s shaping a new way of being. The best way to describe it is “I share. Therefore I am. “ We use technology to define ourselves by sharing our thoughts and feelings even as we’re having them. Furthermore, we’re faking experiences so we have something to share so we can feel alive. We slip into thinking that always being connected is going to make us feel less alone. But we are at risk because the opposite is true. If we are not able to be alone, we are only going to know how to be lonely.” — Sherry Turkle, TED talk – Connected, But Alone

Via: Stacy Malkin