Today I feel increasingly aware of a society obsessed with attention, particularly in the form of feedback. Granted, we are social beings and all need a certain amount of feedback from those around us. This way we can adjust our behavior―learning to live and operate in society without ripping each other’s heads off. On the flip side, we need our space and privacy to grow and develop as individuals. So what happens when we are exposed to never-ending feedback that’s all but inescapable? I think we are starting to find out.
I believe the pervasive and overarching nature of social media is making it more difficult to be unique and way easier to bully people into conforming. And I know this isn’t a groundbreaking revelation or anything, this has been a concern for a number of years now. I just wanted to throw my two cents in―well maybe a full dime.
In my opinion, the problem is the platform of social media seems to encourage and reward people who are merely opportunistic or attention-seeking, as opposed to genuine. The outcome of this is twofold. The first is the establishment of online hierarchies based on popularity and notoriety over merit and character. Those towards the top of these unnatural hierarchies wield much more influence over others (often undeserving) in all aspects of society―including politics and social issues.
The second and most concerning outcome is the unnatural shaping of our youth. As humans, we aren’t psychologically equipped to get the constant unavoidable feedback that social media facilitates. Consequently, the pressure of conformity is compounded and it becomes much more intimidating to reveal or even just search for your own individuality. This sets up a breeding ground for insecurities (among other issues). Some are able to remain resolute in their values and sense of self. They are few and far between.
Naturally, many children and young adults cope by opting to blend in to the crowd rather make waves―the so called “chameleon approach”. Or even worse they deliberately alter their personality and attributes based on the relentless feedback―letting their environment shape them instead of striving to shape their environment. You don’t have to walk down this path very long before becoming no more than a reflection of the society you are consistently exposed to.
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
I hate to be the guy that lays out a problem with no solution. But I don’t have a solution―at least not one that can be implemented through policy or institution. What we can do, however, is consider what can be accomplished on an individual level and encouraging our youth to do the same. For example, learning strategies for dealing with (or evading) the barrage of instant feedback that social media delivers. And conversely, reflecting on the type of feedback we are providing to others (online and off). This way we can be sure we aren’t contributing to the problem or reinforcing those artificial, attention-based hierarchies.
Another thing we can do (as individuals) is build a strong foundation of values that can withstand the tsunami of today’s social pressure―values that don’t need the validation of the internet and its hive-mindedness. There are various ways we can go about developing these values whether it’s through reading, writing, learning, religion, spirituality, community, relationships, etc… Finally, we can work to be courageous enough to stand by those values and act them out in our daily lives.
The solution to the problems posed by this new age of hyperconnectivity lies within the individual. I truly believe that. We all must look inward and make sure we are sorted out before dealing feedback to others, and it is incumbent upon each of us to seek out, develop, and strengthen our own values instead of surrendering that power to outside influence. Only then can we have a chance at discerning and implementing whatever change may be necessary to progress collectively as a society.