Livestreaming Identity - One Hyperfixation at a Time
Identity: The Morifying Ordeal of Being Known
In a world so tightly woven with interpersonal relations, the omnipresence of AI algorithms tracking your every move, and the glamour of social media and materialism - there is not much space left for free will, or individual expression. In such a terrific (terrifying) position, the only grasp we have over ourselves - is through the construction of our own identity. Identity, defined as - the distinguishing character or personality of an individual : INDIVIDUALITY screams as an antithesis of the gruelling discourse of whether identity can ever be personal.
Beyond philosophical enquiries and fundamental psychological theories - there exists a physical, tangible world where identity is constructed, not through one’s own perception of themselves, but one’s perception of how they are perceived by those around them. And through the bountiful advent of social media and mass consumption - we base our identity not solely on other people, but also other things and objects of media.
The Looking Glass Self Theory by Charles Horton Cooley tackles this conundrum by analysing the role that social interactions play in our formation of the self. Perceptions become our core reality, and our identity, in turn, responds and moulds itself in accordance with the perceived judgements.
But here’s the catch - the youth of today’s glitz and glamour, despises being perceived - or even known. We wilfully hide behind our social media profiles, create alternate egos, curate an appealing persona for our followers - and keep our real selves trapped in an underground bunker. Our so-called identity is dependent on the latest media trend - and we are so terrified of letting anyone see through the facade, that we make our walls impenetrable. This fear is more prominent in our warped sense of self deprecating humour, the deflection of anything serious or monumental - and the social interactions we partake in.
But this well curated ideal personality falters only at one pitstop - our media hyper-fixations and consumption habits. The idea of associating ourselves with the characters that most ‘speak’ to us, sharing quotes and dialogues, creating fan art and even getting tattoos that evoke a certain sentiment in our personal lives - its this emotional component that we cannot fake, no matter how hard we try. They persist and seep through the cracks in our perfect masquerades - and allow us a moment of sanity in this pretty much nonsensical world.
It’s Not Me, It’s Not You - It’s Media Consumption
An average individual consumes around five hundred and six minutes worth of media every day, or approximately nine hours. This amounts to around 37.5% of our day - and includes all forms of media, be it print, audiovisual, social media or any other. That is a huge chunk of our lives whiled away, and while it may not be a waste of time - it certainly demonstrates a shift in the culture of the society as a whole. These nine hours determine our values, core beliefs, and construct our definition of what is palatable, and what is not - what is worthy of consumption, and what can be conveniently discarded.
Media trends change as rapidly as the wind - if you’re out of touch for even a day, the whole world can turn upside-down (or at least your online world can). This detachment from the real, tangible world and overexposure to what’s happening online has warped our sense of morality and our sensibilities. Artists can get cancelled overnight, deep fakes can be used for misinformation, our favourite celebrities can make statements that change the trajectory of their very real careers. While this transparency and lack of boundaries in parasocial relationships forces those put on a pedestal to take accountability for their actions, it also blurs the lines between reality and fiction.
We believe it is our inherent right to moral police those around us - but without the facts in place, what puts us in a position to deliver judgements? Even as they are packaged in 280 character tweets and hashtags.
We forget that the small icons on our screens belong to real humans - with hearts and minds just like ours. Our online presence is a very minuscule part of our identity - but we are on a mission to make it our entire life. Typing out an angst ridden post is relatively easier than confronting someone in person, and we misuse this freedom of speech to no bounds. Being selective with our media and watching only that which validates our pre-existing notions creates a false sense of reality, one which can crumble just as easily as it was built.
Hey Man, Nihilism is not the New Thing of the Year
Nihilism - a philosophy propounded by Friedrich Nietzsche, paints a bleak and despondent image of the lack of meaning in human life, and a slow march towards nothingness. It displays a total rejection of establishments and social institutions, as well as a disconnection from religion and even God.
A huge chunk of the Gen Z population has adopted this philosophy, specifically after the pandemic and the disillusionment caused during that time period. Our belief structures have been crushed, our ambitions and hopes have been disintegrated, not to mention the planet is quite literally dying - and the doomsday is very near. However this is not simply a way of life, but the adoption of a social media trend - one that is self validating. We preach about the lack of purpose, yet our purpose lies in our attempt to sound cool on the internet.
But this is just scratching the surface - when understood in depth, one can acknowledge that this outlook towards life stems from a lack of love and support in one’s individual life, and social media only widens the gap between physical interaction and communication.
Nihilism is a distraction to navigate the labyrinth of modern life - and self deprecating humour is the golden thread guiding our way. Humour and irony have become coping mechanisms to adapt to the changing course of nature - but self deprecating humour is more than simply that. We think that by putting ourselves down, or cracking jokes at our own expense - we are falling in line with the way social media wants us to function. A joke with a punchline that attempts to pinpoint your own flaws - is not a joke, but a cause for concern. Self resentment becomes a form of connection across boundaries, and even a sense of belonging.
Not surprisingly, the online happiness quotient on twitter reached an all-time low this year, and our understanding of social media is only in terms of memes that attack rather than salvage our mental health. It is a no-brainer then, that our perception of the self is equally deprecating.
Global Uniformity: The Brain Crash Diet
Remember when individuality used to be admired, and conformity - resented? We used to yearn for a badge of singularity, but now we’re simply a blur of similar media consumption habits, indistinguishable from the next. We all share a collective unconscious - only difference being that ours is filled with an extensive knowledge on memes, celebrity feuds, fashion trends and media fixations. We band together and call it a fandom - we form online cliques and isolate anyone who does not fit the bill, going so far as to excommunicate someone for not conforming to our ideals, but is this crash course in uniformity killing our selfhood?
Mass Media swamps diversity - it erases any scope for differences in space or even opinions. Every street has a McDonalds, every closet has the same H&M outfit, every social media post has the same caption - it's a wilful resignation of identity, in the search for validation.
We forget that it is our difference in perspective that provides a holistic view of life as a whole, as cliche as that may sound. We compartmentalise ourselves in boxes - astrology signs, MBTI Personalities, Character Tropes - anything that can take away the pressure of being an individual.
But as has been said before, to define is to limit. In Whitman’s words, ‘I am large, I contain multitudes’, which makes one wonder why we are so persistent on being pushed into a definition, when the only box that should ever contain us is a casket.
You are Not in your hysterical 20th-century woman Era: On Commodifying Sickness
To no one’s surprise, the mental health condition of individuals, specifically teenagers and young adults has reached rock bottom. But it is our approach towards romanticising a very real sickness which is concerning to me. We so desperately want to fit into the mould of a perfect albeit slightly mentally disarrayed person - that we aestheticise our sickness.
Oh I am in my fleabag era, oh I am a distraught gifted child, oh I am in my Lana Del Ray era - oh I am in my hysterical 20th century woman era - weeping on the bed, staying up nights, battling eating disorders, seeing shapes in your wallpaper - experiencing the second hand trauma of an entire generation left to fend for themselves, but only in a socially appealing manner. Even when we are at our visible lowest, we are still looking at ourselves through the ‘other’s’ gaze - terrifyingly haunting, and omnipresent. We commodify and belittle our sickness so it fits the mould we have seen, represented, and accepted, hold ourselves up to standards unreachable - and filter our reality as per the latest fad, or the last movie we saw. Reality is so distant from life in the movies, yet we get so caught up in its fabricated utopia. We have been conditioned to present ourselves as easily consumable, easily definable - and definitely no complexities allowed.
It forces us to wonder if we create media, or media creates us? Are we all but blurs in the almost perfect algorithm of targeted media - is this what being a main character feels like? Cause I call quits.