Can you see me?

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. Oscar Wilde

It couldn’t have been much more than a year ago that a guy (let’s call him Frank) asked me for my hand. Romantic, isn’t it? Not so much. See, the problem with Frank was that I didn’t have much of a clue who Frank was. Sure, we’d exchanged a bunch of messages on Facebook, but I do that with so many people I meet online. It really startled me and since I had absolutely no idea how to respond, I ended up saying nothing at all. A few days later, Frank deleted me off his friends list. I couldn’t pretend to be all that disappointed because, to be honest, my mind still hadn’t come up with anything to say. And yet, something about it kept on bothering me, but it wasn’t the lack of Frank’s presence in my inbox. No, what bothered me was how on Earth he’d been able to fall in love with someone profile-to-profile?

Taken from brizzdazz

Well, not too long ago a TED talk caught my attention. In the The Future of Lying, Jeff Hancock illustrates the problem of deception, something that’s been fascinating us for thousands of years. From Diogenes and Confucius right down to the modern day, we’ve wondered time and time again: why is it that people can just make things up? Not that we wouldn’t enjoy novels or tv series, but still, people don’t limit the use of their imagination to just storytelling. Even where the most mundane and boring parts of our lives are concerned – we lie. Research has shown that we do it approximately one to two times a day. It would be easy to assume that online – free from reality’s constraints – we’d be even less honest than usual, but oddly that’s not the case. According to Hancock we lie only by “a little bit”. Thus, although we may not be telling the truth per se, it’s close enough.

Wait, what? Yes. He’s used diary studies in order to determine our honesty across different media. A number of people were asked to record “all of their conversations and lies for seven days”. He then calculated “how many lies took place per conversation within a medium”. First, Hancock mentions e-mail (which is the most honest medium) and the phone (the least honest), but he also talks about Facebook. And, surprisingly, it really helped my confusion quite a bit. Why? Well, I suppose I’m not the only one who simply assumed that Facebook’s only showing us the most “idealized versions” of people, or to quote Hancock “no way are my friends that cool!”. But oh no, we may all be very much mistaken. By comparing the description of someone’s personality made by four of his closest friends to that made by a number of strangers based on his profile…Hancock and his team arrived at the following conclusion:

Those judgments of personality were pretty much identical, highly correlated. Meaning that Facebook profiles really do reflect our actual personality. – Jeff Hancock

Taken from mycareerbuzz

Possibly, Frank’s been playing the speed-dating game at much higher level than most – by profile hunting people. Our semi-lame exchange of messages might’ve had nil to do with him throwing his hat in the ring. It could’ve just been my taste in movies or the way I (usually don’t) do my hair. Plus, speaking as someone who’s always had a lot of “virtual” friends, I really do understand how great it can be to talk to someone who isn’t even remotely connected to your environment. So, who’s to say that these well crafted profiles we feel so comfortable hiding behind aren’t giving away much more of ourselves than we think and that some people, like Frank, are more attuned to this fact than others? Oscar Wilde – who was after all the master of artful lying – may have been on to something rather important. Namely that, whenever we’re dealing with any kind of mask, what we actually end up with is the bare naked soul of whomever is wearing it.

Beauty Devolution

A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous. Coco Chanel

Okay, so you may or may not have noticed but I tend to work around quotes I genuinely like and feel personally attached to. Well, not in this case. I absolutely hate this quote. Now, apart from the fact that I’m still fairly uncertain what “classy and fabulous” even means to most people, it bothers me to no conceivable end that young girls all over the world put this up as their Facebook motto’s and Twitter descriptions. In my personal view, a girl shouldn’t be “two things”, she should be whatever (the hell) she wants to be. Also, and no offense to Coco – who I’m sure really did mean to help advance the status of women from being mere housewives to having the right to feel like actual people -, but do we really believe that this quote is so popular because it makes young women feel better?

Taken from popdust

I’m not going to write a piece on just how much pressure is put on women to look beautiful, because frankly I think we’re in no way more affected by society’s ridiculous standards than men are. Only yesterday, Glen Poole for The Guardian stated how nowadays boys “as young as 10 are beginning to worry about their body image”. Ten, for crying out loud. Basically, the article speaks of the fact that, although it is true that women are still more commonly affected by eating disorders, the problem is no longer confined to just them. Men’s perception of their bodily flaws may differ in content from the worries of women, but all in all “extreme perspectives are damaging to both girls and boys transitioning into adulthood”. Extreme perspectives of what men (strong, successful, tall) and women (slim, flawless, sexy) should be.

Now, I sort of agree with Poole that “being a success symbol (or a sex symbol) in the game of relationships will always be a driver for young men and women”, and I also concur with his belief that we should nonetheless try and find ways to make young boys and girls (and millions of adults, for that matter) “feel happy in their own skin”. But how are we going to do that? How, in a society that is already so fundamentally driven by artificial standards are we going to tell our children that it’s okay to be “who they are”, without enhancements? Ironically, today, Jessie Cole (also for The Guardian) pointed out that “formidably intelligent, beautiful 31-year-old” people, in this case her friend, are already getting botox. Their faces, she says, have much less expression, are somewhat shiny and appear (emotionally) impenetrable. Is it any coincidence that people like me have lost all faith in perfection when what we call perfect today, doesn’t even really exist?

Taken from RedLips HighHeels

The same goes for at least about a thousand youtube videos. Young girls who show other young girls how to plaster their face with just about enough make-up to hide every single flaw they might have, and preferably even change their facial features. After all, it’s a cheap alternative to plastic surgery, right? But hang on a minute, what’s happening here? Of course, we all know our beauty standards are ridiculous, but when everybody gives into them so easily, where will we end up? Is the beauty of the future a perfectly symmetrical, flawless face? Should we all just get an appointment with our plastic surgeons straight away, to make sure everybody comes out looking exactly the same? Or should we control beauty by birth and only let the most genetically perfect human beings procreate?

At some point, we’re going to have to realize that all these media images we’re competing with aren’t even real. Botox, photoshop and starvation can have a marvelous effect on many a model. But … is that really the kind of beauty we want to have? The kind that will always tell men and women all over the world that they’re “not good enough”? The kind that makes young ten-year-old children hate themselves? The kind that enhances quotes like “a girl should be two things”? Well, girls and boys all over the world, you don’t have to be anything specific. If the media’s fake image of reality is the only thing that’s “good enough”, then by all means, feel free to not be good enough.

Taken from Happiness Project

Because if we start reducing ourselves to being two things (classy & fabulous or successful & tall), we forget that we’re over a thousand different things, and they’re all worth exploring. What this world is, well … that’s not for any of us to change. But what we are, how we perceive ourselves, who we want to be? That is, and the less people cave in, the less imperfection will stand out. In the end, a human should be one thing: human. All else … is bunk. And, just because I found it very inspiring, listen to this girl – she has something very deep to say that makes the shallow surfaces of our modern perceptions on beauty remind me of one of my favorite Ally McBeal quotes: “You put the fish in the superficial!”.

Well, in that case? This fish’s saying: so long and thanks, but I’m not going in that dish!

Woman is sold to women … while doing what she believes is preening herself, scenting herself, clothing herself, in a word ‘creating’ herself, she is, in fact, consuming herself.Jean Baudrillard

The Heart of the Event

Everywhere what is sought is the ‘heart of the event’, the ‘heart of the battle’, the ‘live’, the ‘face to face’ – the dizzy sense of a total presence at the event, the Great Thrill of Lived Reality – i.e. the miracle once again, since the truth of the media report, televised and taped, is precisely that I was not there. But it is the truer than true which counts or, in other words, the fact of being there without being there. Or, to put it yet another way, the fantasy. What mass communications give us is not reality, but the dizzying whirl of reality […] – Jean Baudrillard

On April 25th, Matt Buchanan posted his article The Medium of The Moment on The New Yorker‘s web page. It’s an interesting little piece, arguing that Twitter is the medium of the moment because its primary aim is to deliver information in terms of nowness which isn’t exactly the same as newness:

Nowness is not simply newness, or the new: the question Twitter used to ask of users when they went to compose a tweet, “What’s happening?” is a direct inquiry about the state of now.

Fair enough, Facebook’s been asking very similar questions – “What’s happening?”, “How are you feeling?”, “What’s on your mind?” (stop harassing me!) – and yet … Buchanan has a point. In 2010, Nicholas Carr published a book named The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. Carr describes how he began to notice a decline in his overall ability to concentrate. Not only were he and some of his correspondents distracted much more easily, they also felt a high ADHD-like need for stimulation and appeared less able than before to focus deeply on anything for prolonged periods of time. The speed with which, he says, data can now be gathered online has made the reading of an entire book seem a tiny bit obsolete. Instead of going over hundreds of pages to find the bits and pieces of information you need, it’s a hell of a lot simpler to just google it. Thus, in a bit of a McLuhian fashion, Carr sets out to link possible neural changes to the age of cheap, fast, always available data by retracing what happened to society whenever a new medium was introduced (be it maps, the transition from oral to written culture or Gutenberg’s press – in case you’d like to know a bit more, watch this video).

Taken from Lehrblogger

What can science tell us about the actual effects that Internet use is having on the way our minds work? No doubt, this question will be the subject of a great deal of research in the years ahead. Already, though, there is much we know or can surmise. The news is even more disturbing than I had suspected. Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, educators, and Web designers point to the same conclusion: when we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. It’s possible to think deeply while surfing the Net […] but that’s not the type of thinking the technology encourages and rewards. – Nicholas Carr

In short: according to Carr, any new medium has the power to change society by affecting the brain’s neuroplasticity. The way we surf the Internet heavily impacts the way we think. Twitter and the like, for instance, provide our brains with a shot of dopamine each time we check our notifications and messages – a shot we become addicted to so easily, we barely even notice it’s happening. It’s such an entertaining and seemingly harmless drug, that it’s quite likely the most socially accepted one to date. But, coming back to Buchanan’s claim, why in this world of free dopamine shots would Twitter be the medium of the moment? Why not Facebook? Well, here’s a suggestion. I don’t know about your Twitter timeline, but mine quite literally exploded during Europe’s annual eurovision song contest – while Facebook, in comparison, felt a bit like attending a (really boring) funeral. Although I refused to watch, I know of almost every single thing that happened during eurovision, which even prompted me to rename it – I now call it the eurovision tweet contest. But it doesn’t stop there, we’re constantly witnessing Twitter’s dazzling speed. Remember the pope, or Buchanan’s example of the Boston Marathon bombings (and the many mishaps associated with it), and yes .. even Steve Job’s death.

Taken from Tweeteronix

At the heart of the event, without having to see it or tune in, without ever having to be there. A web version of reality that is, just as Baudrillard predicted in 1970, more dizzying than reality itself, more explosive, more direct, more now than now: nowness. It’s a speed thing, and (with the possible exception of Reddit) no social media platform’s better able to satisfy this need than Twitter. A total presence, that is always both listening and watching. A constant stream of messages, all-delivering, all-devouring. Also, a lot more sloppy, more emotional and more fragmented (the most glaring omission often being… objectivity). But Twitter isn’t alone of course. Nowness is just as much Google’s business – after all, your click-stream data sells like ice cream on a hot summer’s day. But, is it all bad? Carr, who like most of us likes and regularly uses the Internet, doesn’t necessarily seem to think so. However, he does leave us with a warning:

The Web’s connections are not our connections—and no matter how many hours we spend searching and surfing, they will never become our connections. When we outsource our memory to a machine, we also outsource a very important part of our intellect and even our identity.

Now, I’m not saying I want us all to give up on the Internet, or alternatively ourselves. No, I wouldn’t want that. What I would want however is to know that by the time I have children, instead of learning how to use a tablet, or connect to social media with Google Glass, they also learn how to read and understand lengthy arguments. I hope they will still enjoy sitting under a tree holding their favorite book (even if it’s the e-reader version, which frankly might help us save some trees). Yes, I hope we’ll remember that contemplation matters and cannot be replaced with being connected all the time. For, outside this heavy whirl, far beyond the constant penetration of nowness, there is a place in our minds which needs to be fed. And, despite what some media gurus may believe, to survive and grow, it needs a lot more than constant stimulation. Instead of being at the heart of the event, the live, the schizophrenic condition of the 21st century, it needs to remember how to be at its own heart, how to be in a state of absolute tranquility. What it needs is the right to be by itself, in its very own here … and its very own now.