The below quote inspired the form of this article. Please read it. The words belong to Antoine De Saint-Exupery, a French pilot and pioneer of the transcontinental mail carrier service in the 1930’s. He is a dreamer, a futurist, and above all else,
“Transport of the mails, transport of the human voice, transport of flickering pictures – in this century as in others, our highest accomplishments still have the single aim of bringing men together.
But how can anyone conceive that the machine is an end? It is a tool. As much a tool as is the plough … What disservice do we do the life of the spirit when we seek to bring together those who love one another and are parted in space?
‘Agreed!’ my dreamers will say, ‘but explain to us why it is that a decline in human values has accompanied the rise of the machine?’ Oh, I miss the village with its crafts and its folksongs as much as they do! … I quite agree that men lose their creative instincts when they are fed thus without raising a hand. And I can see that it is tempting to accuse industry of this evil…
In the enthusiasm of our rapid mechanical conquests we have overlooked some things. We have perhaps driven men into the service of the machine, instead of building machinery for the service of man. But could anything be more natural? So long as we were engaged in conquest, our spirit was the spirit of conquerors. The time has now come when we must be colonists, must make this house habitable which is still without character.”
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Airman’s Odyssey
It is difficult for us to remember the era before the big three: Facebook, Instagram, & Twitter. These mediums were developing right as we were becoming people. Many of us began a profile at the onset and have been accumulating followers ever since. The affect this has had on our idea of community could not be more profound. The cheerleader that briefly dated the high school buddy you haven’t spoken to in three years can now read up on your every move. Those persons that would have slipped by us with the passage of time will never leave. Unless we decide they must. With one click most of our online friends would be gone from us forever.
Many idealize the simpler times before social media. It was, some argue, an era where we would enjoy a concert, a sports game, or a breakfast without applying a filter to purify other’s perception of our lives. Somehow these filters can taint our everyday experience. Our feeds become competitive. It becomes a game of one-up-manship, of braggadocio. We are lost in the lives created through our phones, instead of living them. I am, of course, focusing solely on some of the ills involved with sharing content. The reason we are even having this conversation right now is because of the publicity Facebook affords. Social media has allowed us to continue relationships that should still exist. Think of all those people our parents became enamored with, of who they now know nothing! Like Saint-Exupery’s aircraft, social media is a tool that when used intentionally and with discretion, can bring us together, those of us that are parted in space. I don’t want to go back to the time before it. Actually, I believe social media makes us quite rich.
I often remind myself that anything I have achieved in this life is not my own. The pyramid I stand atop is a room with a view. Below us are generations, millennia of women and men whose advancements allow us our perch. The dead once stood atop pyramids we were not a part of. Soon, we will all become bricks. By this measure I consider myself lucky to exist during this age. In the history of man, when have we had the same ability to connect with others? We exist at the pinnacle of human connection. Past impossibilities facing long distant friendships have become actualized. This past decade has allowed us a sphere, a community with sharing information as its core custom. Sure, we have become lazier with some friendships. Like pigs with open gullets the trough of slop that is our ‘feed’ scrolls into our accepting mouths. Nevertheless, the platforms allow us to make the content we share our own, to remember the spirit of those we cannot be around. There is much meaningful information to be had if your surround yourself with the best people.
I know there are those that would disagree. Social media, as with any tool abused, can become a nuisance. It pressure-cooks every day situations that should be allowed to pass with a mundane grin. Like any powerful tool, it has the possibility to consume us. For us to give it too much sway in our lives. For us to enlist “into the service of the machine, instead of building machinery for the service of man.” We all know those people who must document anything that catches their eye (I, myself, may pop into your mind. And I would not dispute it!). It’s fucking annoying. Actually, right now we are all one bullshit post away from getting deleted by someone else.
Social media can definitely lead to a decline in human values. I know this because it certainly has not aided my own. I think we can agree that at the heart of every social media account is narcissism, pure. We post things about ourselves to gain the compliments of others. Sure, we post articles so that others may more easily access information, but it all funnels into one tall, glorious portrait of our airbrushed selves. We curate our profiles to display only our best work so that our friends can poke around the lobby and whisper OoOoOoh, look at that one. Debatably, we engage in certain activities only to post them later. We obsess and perfect and stress and are broken by something that has come into existence only this decade. Best-case scenario we are updating our close friends on our going-ons and whereabouts. In the worst cases we boast about how much better we have it, a constant flow of hey, look how much more fucking awesome I am than you. When that happens, it is an abuse of the system. And one can only take so much abuse.
It is a strange feeling to delete someone out of our infinite scroll of information. Instead of flipping a newspaper page, you are effectively recycling a person. Dating apps provide the best cut and dry example of the sociopath that lives within all of us. Without compassion we swipe people down the trash chute. We put up with far more content before doing the same on Facebook, but the action remains the same. Before I am moved to that point, I always must lay out the thought process before these people are exiled from my online community. They are, after all, breathing humans behind their profile pictures.
I recall the interactions we’ve shared. Did I enjoy their company? Were they a narcissist? How many years has it been since we’ve spoken? These questions play out. Even if a person is clogging my feed (yes I still follow an Instagram feed that once posted 20 separate one word pictures of an inspirational quote…) I won’t delete them if my memory of our relationship was positive. In fact, I may start liking more of their posts.
I have always contested that those with the best social media presences are often the loneliest people in our tribe. Recently, I underwent some travel and begrudgingly became more active on social media. I say begrudgingly because I knew what the result would be. My few first posts would receive support, but as a new picture was added every day, the novelty would begin to wear off, the likes would stop flowing, and I would end up becoming a clog in the feed. A repetitive dish in the slop. It was a strange social experiment indeed, and one that, at times, made me feel slimy. Of course I could not be frustrated at the drop off in attention. The worst thing about following travel feeds is that we don’t like what we can’t enjoy ourselves. I didn’t see it that way. More than anything, I was lonely. Not that I was alone in my travels. Some of my all time companions were with me for parts of the trip. It was my absence from any community. I was simply a voyeur spending three days in one place before moving on. And so I didn’t see it as a bragging call into the forum. I was missing what Saint-Exupery would refer to as ‘the village,’ the crafts, the folksongs, the passerby conversation. The online community became my way of strolling down the boulevard to see who flagged me down for a chat.
Social media itself is a foray into unknown ground. As Saint-Exupery says, “The time has now come when we must make this house habitable which is still without character.” And that is perhaps what interests me most about social media. Just as we are all individuals who inhabit this century, so too are our feeds different in every way. To tell another how they should be using their social media is, to me, an abomination. Each of us machete our own path through this webscape. No one has forged it before us, established a pathway that must be followed. We are pioneers, cultivators, and scientists of this new way to connect. Our generation has grown up with the Internet. We have been bestowed with a responsibility to seek out every dark corner that exists.
Perhaps the most gutting part of using social media is to post something that not a soul acknowledges. The picture of the girl with the parrot that has 300 likes often exacerbates this feeling of isolation. These moments are both humbling and tell you nothing at the same time. People are busy. They are often preoccupied with actually living to trouble themselves with handing out a virtual thumbs up. And there are even more that silently observe, who feel no need to urge you on. Often, the online community tells someone when too much is enough. Our zeitgeist rights itself without spoken word or congregation. Like spiritus mundi, the social media community awards adulation where it is due and shuts off the tap to those that abuse the source.
We know nothing. We post away that which intrigues us. People silently judge while we blissfully provide further information. The people who judge are lonely in their corner like critics in a dark movie theatre. Those of us who are comfortable enough in our own profiles will continue to share our lives. The feed keeps scrolling. The rules are unwritten. We sail below the stars into a universe, trying to avoid mutiny.
Make sure to feed the crew.