As a kid, I built people from numbers. From lists and characteristics that I believed would somehow craft a real person to bring life to my stories. I thought that knowing how a character took their coffee or what their favorite movie was would build me a real personality. Looking back on that, I almost laugh. Laugh at how short I fell from creating a real person. What I was scratching out with my ballpoint pen was a lifeless replication of the intricacies of humanity, a paper person that couldn’t even begin to comprehend the complexities of reality. Yet, what I laughed at is now an ever present and inescapable factor of our online world. Social media and the increased availability of brisk online communication have caused us to relinquish our authenticity and embrace the distortion of our personalities.
We see social media as an advancement of culture and connection, but we ignore the effect it has on our personalities. We ignore the fact that so many users signed away their personality when they signed off on the swear of conformity hidden deep in terms and conditions. On social media, the mass of users have created an unspoken rulebook filled with expectations for every profile (Heitner). This hidden rulebook begins people’s journey towards the conformity and is the start of them adjusting themselves for the online community. Users start with tiny adjustments that they believe are impermanent and unimportant changes to fit in, but as time goes on and expectations grow, they change more extremely to continually receive that popular reception.
Users get sucked into the popularity contest because of how incredibly evident it is online. Every second you’re on the program you see likes, follows, retweets and it begins to have this immense power over users, rather than prioritizing fun and community. Once people can see what gets the most attention, they begin to pursue those posts, activities, and events. They begin act not for themselves or their entertainment, but to get a leg up in a immaterial world. They calculate every part of their day and each post to ensure it adds exactly the right detail to their image. Elisabeth Camp argues that “Who [you are] is given by the story [you] tell” emphasizing how much power we have to alter and “better” ourselves online by being able to control what we story we tell and what character we allow people to see (Camp). Every time you scroll through someone’s feed, all that you see is the carefully curated characteristics and picturesque personality they want you to glimpse. It becomes a game to see who can become the most produced, but appear the most authentic.
Social media embraces this suppression and illusion, and because of that it hurts their users as they fall prey to the game. They begin to lose their personality and integrity online, but eventually even in real life too because of the advanced tech of our phones. Our phones have become an ever present part of our life and they affect our personality immensely, illustrated by Sherry Turkle, “Our phones are not accessories, but psychologically potent devices that change not just what we do but who we are” (Turkle). As users check and log onto their phones constantly through the day, they begin to unconsciously bring their pattern of facades and lies with them even after they log off or shut their phones. They do this unconsciously, but also consciously as they see the success of their lies and begin to crave the success and false happiness they found online. Because of the positive reception and the increased time spent online today, as users wipe parts of their personalities away online, they can eventually reach a point where it’s nearly impossible to return to or ever retrieve themselves. What they were becomes a distant memory soaring away as they immerse themselves more and more into the binary of the digital world.
All of these factors between the hidden rule book, the popularity contest, and constant conformity create the very same paper people that I myself used to build. Users log on one day, then another, and then every day. Each time losing a small part of themselves until they are fully paper and it’s impossible to return to who they were before. Digital literacy today is more than understanding the internet, but understanding who you are and how not to lose that. Digital literacy is about acknowledging both the strengths and the weaknesses of our’s and the digital world. We are not a world of paper people, we’re an incredibly complex world of diversity, disagreement, and depth and there is no follow, like, or retweet that should convince us to leave that behind.
Heitner, Devorah. "Rules for Social Media, Created by Kids." The New York Times, 5 Jan. 2017. Web. 18 Jan. 2017.
Jackson, Nicholas. "The American Identity According to Social Media." The Atlantic, 16 Aug. 2016. Web. 18 Jan. 2017. <http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/08/infographic-the-american-identity-according-to-social-media/243687/>.
The Narrative Self. Dir. Elisabeth Camp. Perf. Elisabeth Camp. Wireless Philosophy. Youtube, 5 Feb. 2016. Web. 18 Jan. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcIqoN9oRgo>.
Turkle, Sherry. "Stop Googling. Let's Talk." Sunday Review. The New York Times, 26 Sept. 2016. Web. 18 Jan. 2017. <https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/27/opinion/sunday/stop-googling-lets-talk.html?_r=0>.