While giving a speech to the 1974 graduating class of Hobart and William Smith College, humorist, humanist and curmudgeon Kurt Vonnegut said, “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
We have certainly cobbled together a community. A huge online community that includes roughly one in every four people around the world. But this community doesn’t seem to have actually cured loneliness, or isolation, or our myriad vices and histrionics. In fact, social media seems to have exaggerated a few of our worse traits. To simplify things, we are going to use the seven deadly sins to illuminate the bits of us that we dislike and how they are exaggerated or encouraged by social media.
There are plenty of good types of pride. It is an important and powerful emotion that keeps us striving and allows us a modicum of self-respect. However, it is one of the easiest virtues to become a vice. Where can we talk to anybody at any moment about our favorite thing, ourselves? Every social media platform ever.
Just about everyone has some sort of social media profile, but most people view it as a thing outside of themselves, and at best a way to communicate with a large number of friends and acquaintances more easily. Unhappily, though, studies show that social media rewards those who exhibit narcissistic personality traits such as grandiose exhibitionism and entitlement, or those with the most “friends”. A narcissist doesn’t see social media as a tool for connecting, he or she sees a platform to display their talent, beauty, good luck, and grace. Thus, the humblebrag is born.
Somewhere in the world right now, two friends are sitting at a table sharing a meal. Both are staring at their phones. One is looking at the feed of a globetrotting model and the other is staring at a Tumblr of high end apartments. The only noises passing between the two are various snorts, whistles and “Look-at-this-omg’s”.
We see people all around us looking at other people’s lives, or at least the parts of their lives they would like to show us. Some people (see: Pride) just post things that aggrandize themselves.
Of course, there are mechanisms through which Facebook envy operates. If you see one of your close friends achieve something you desire (a new baby, marriage, etc.) you will often feel a pang of jealousy. Naturally, feelings of intimacy that come with direct, tete-a-tete friendships help alleviate these feelings. But with the Facebook newsfeed, amelioration is hampered by what Dr. Joy Browne calls “pseudo-intimacy”. In other words, you don’t really feel the connection that true friendship has the potential of granting, so when someone succeeds,the newsfeed crushes [your] soul on a daily basis”.