No one uses “Facebook” and similar “social media” in order to engage with others. People visit these sites in order to find themselves. Social media enable a high level narcissism.
Why would people be searching for themselves? Because, whether they realise it or not, they have lost themselves.
There are no meaningful coordinates in modern society by which one might be orientated. Some hark back to older forms of meaning: religion, politics, art. But, these offer little consolation in contemporary society; one cannot swim for long upstream against the torrent.
The torrent is the existential vacuity of life in contemporary society.
This experience is neither univeral nor timeless. It is entirely new and particular to those societies in which unopposed austerity regimes are established, such as the UK. In these places, what is decisively new is the utter eradication of hope.
Without hope – that is, the possibility of change – life is meaningless.
This is the social basis of the existential void that sucks at every vital activity practiced by individuals: work, play, love, sex, walking, socialising, sport, education, masturbation, and so on, indefinitely. We are all living through the hours, wondering at the pointlessness of these activities. Only the depressive functions make sense, as an affective response to this hopelessness: drinking, smoking, sleeping, and so on. Of these, only sleep offers any real relief. For sleep allows us to dream.
Those who wish to survive this incarceration – an incarceration in the hell of the present – search obsessively for new forms of affectivity, vitality, meaning. They build networks in which they might gaze at each other, in the hope that, through the act of gazing at another gazing back at them, they might catch a reflected image of the self they dream they are but find they are not.
Whatever chimera shimmers before them, it is never adequate. They join another site, link sites together, repost and rework, trying desperately to find the angle by which they might catch a glance that pierces through the back of their skull into the secret life they feel they have lost but, in truth, never had.
Social media, then, far from being a “revolutionary medium”, is a symptom of a deep depression across late capitalist austerity societies. Indeed, the fact that so much “hope” has been invested in such “mediums”, as a means of affecting change, only reveals the desperate extent of the general hopelessness. We place our faith in such mediums in exactly the same way the bereaved put their faith in some hack claiming communion with the dead: our desire is precisely to transcend temporality, to step out of the continuum of history. But the present cannot be escaped. It can only continue on and on interminably — or be destroyed.
Twitter is a marketing platform, which is designed to foster short-term buzz and hype. It would be absurd for me to be pious about this aspect of Twitter, since I depend upon it to circulate my writing, and advertise upcoming events. Still, this has effects. The whole point of Twitter is that to fully participate in it, one has to get carried away with passing frenzies.And it is not just a marketing platform for businesses. The set-up is that every user account is an ‘enterprise’ cultivating a specific market. This aggravates a tendency that Christopher Lasch had already identified back in the 1970s. Lasch pointed out that ‘the individual’ was being extolled and celebrated and fetishised at just the point when selves were being relentlessly fragmented and redivided. This lent itself to a particular kind of narcissism in which people, increasingly deprived of real agency, sought validation as ‘individuals’ in the mirror of society. Twitter, while partaking of the fragmentation of the self into many enterprises, also functions as such a mirror. Again, I’m too well ensconced in this glass house to start lobbing stones about narcissism (have you seen my instagram account yet?), but there’s a particular form of online narcissistic behaviour which I think is especially contemptible, and that consists of soliciting approval and recognition as a Good Person for demonstrating worthy opinions, attitudes and affect. Most deplorable of all in this vein is a low imitation of humanitarian intervention – the patronising pseudo-deference to whoever is deemed a worthwhile victim, on whose behalf one claims a right to a great deal of viciousness and for whose sake rigour and scruple can be jettisoned.Finally, this is linked to a sort of panopticon effect, in that everyone is in principle potentially witnessed by, or drawn to the attention of, everyone else on Twitter. One always wants to be ‘retweeted’ as much as possible, of course, but that attention can suddenly become toxic if one deviates from the norms of one’s Twitter lifeworld. So there is tremendous pressure – especially for those who basically live on Twitter – to constantly project a self consistent with one’s ego-ideal. But it’s absolutely no mystery that this sort of strenuous high-mindedness should go hand-in-hand with a punitive, bullying streak – particularly if there’s a chance of, through belabouring the scapegoat of the moment, establishing one’s innocence before the invisible tribunal of one’s peers.
This, then, is my thumbnail account of why Twitter is such an unutterable fucking mess. Please RT widely.