Preface: This piece was originally published as the third installment in a series of literary self-indulgences, which I dubbed “The Road Chronicles” — a title chosen because the series of essays employed traveling a road as a unifying metaphor. The series title emerged organically from the recesses of my psyche in deference to Jack Kerouac’s seminal work “On the Road”. My early reading of Kerouac’s novel first drew me into a period of narrowly focused introspection, then summarily cast me out into the world, where I have since sought to connect with people, ideas and things across a much broader field of engagement. And the series expressed several observations hard-won during the journey from then to now.
From Self-possessed to Selfies…
I have no doubt there are positive aspects of our contemporary age of Social Media. For instance, the potential to connect ordinary people across diverse political and geographical boundaries is, I believe, a major force for good in the world today.
However, there are also quite troubling aspects to the evolution — one of which is the propensity for many to live solely in the eyes of others.
Young children begin their journey to self-awareness by implicitly believing they exist only in the eyes of their parents. Hey Mom, hey Dad, look at me… Watch me skate… See me ride… Look at me swinging… Look at me… Look at me… Look at me.
The approbation that young children receive from their parents, siblings, and members of their extended families builds their sense of self-esteem, their sense of self-being.
Eventually, if their emotional growth progresses along with their physical maturation, children begin to understand that they have a presence in the world, independent of their parents’ and family’s perceptual field. They become, as we used to say, their “own person”.
Being one’s own person — that is, giving authentic existential primacy to one’s vision of oneself — used to be valued as a mark of emotional and intellectual maturity. Indeed, it was often seen as a source of personal strength and power — something that stayed with and carried one through the many twists and turns and across the potholes of life.
Now, We Have Inverse Solipsism…
Solipsism is a theme in philosophical thought that holds one can never truly know an existence outside of one’s own consciousness. For some, Solipsism was historically the ultimate expression of egocentricity, a view bereft of intuitive truth.
Today, however, what we see is a growing predominance of the implicit view that we cannot exist except insofar as others are aware of and see us. In other words, more and more of us are living a kind of inverse Solipsism — just as futile, and just as existentially barren as the original 18th-century version.
Today, a great many of us don’t seem to be able live without being seen — constantly. We experience an urgent need to Instagram and SnapChat images of the most mundane things and activities: our dinner on its plate, us trying on clothing at a department store, our dog pooping in the backyard. How many different ways can we think up to flash our connections the “peace” sign? Especially when so many these days haven’t the slightest clue as to its historical significance?
Let’s be clear.I am not talking here about sharing travel photos of fascinating and beautiful locales, nor of snaps of awe-evoking classic architecture. I am talking about images of the dull, the repetitious, the mind-numbing minutiae of everyday life — or what passes these days for such.
These days, we seem to need to post Facebook pictures of us drinking beer and having a good time, in order to actually have a good time. Because it seems that, in our minds, we live only in the eyes of others. And without their attention, we don’t, indeed can’t exist. Solipsism turned on its head.
Egocentricity Is a Side Road to … Nowhere
Well… at least it is for most of us. I do have to admit that egocentricity as a core philosophy of life seems to work for — indeed is de rigueur for — Hollywood movie stars, most politicians, and some others. Nevertheless, for most of us, it truly is a dead end, empty of intellectual stimulation and emotional growth.
Consider, if you will, the latest mobile “app” user interfaces. They are invariably provided with a main navigation button labeled “Me”.
Clicking on this button often takes you to a section that tracks all of your activity on the relevant site — the posts by, comments of, and references to the user. So-and-so liked and 296 others liked your post. So-and-so liked your share. So-and-so mentioned you in a post. So-and-so mentioned you in a share. So-and-so mentioned you in a comment. Even… So-and-so and 77 others liked a share that mentions you.
The result is so cloying I find it hard to believe anyone other than extreme egocentrics can avoid feeling as though they’ve just eaten an entire box of creme chocolates.
Don’t Get Me Wrong… It’s Not the App That’s the Problem…
The attitude behind the inclusion of the “Me” key and associated function is itself indicative of a pervasive nurturing of extreme, perhaps even obsessive-compulsive egocentricity.
Even worse, this egocentricity does not lead to megalomania (which would be bad enough), as it might have in the past. Instead, in the current environment of Social Media, it leads to the serious erosion of almost everyone’s sense of self.
We’re fact creating the worst of all possible worlds. On the one hand, we’re becoming more and more focused on ourselves. Yet at the same time, we’re becoming almost, if not completely dependent upon how others see us, and upon their most trivial and trite expressions of approbation.
Although I am not sure what exactly can be done to reverse this toxic trek, I am certain that doing so is absolutely essential to our future intellectual and psychological well being. — Phil Friedman
Author’s Notes: As noted above, this post is part of my series, The Road Chronicles, in which I give expression to some of the more literary and philosophical thoughts I normally keep suppressed. If you found the reading worthwhile, you may want also to take a look at other installments in the series:
If you’d like to receive notifications of my writings on a regular basis, click the [FOLLOW] button on my beBee blog. As a writer-friend of mine says, you can always change your mind later.
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Text Copyright 2015 – 2017 by Phil Friedman — All Rights Reserved
Images Credits: the Author, FreeDigitalPhotos.net, and Google Images
Originally published at www.bebee.com