Individualism and Social Media

These days I’ve been off Twitter and, as those (poor) friends of mine have been hearing, I’ve been precipitating some ideas. I think most of us realise that social media is… messed up. ( I realise the definition of social media is a bit contested so in this post just take Instagram, Tiktok, Twitter, Facebook ect as what I am referring to). However we feel a sense of obligation to it, thinking we’ll miss out on social relations or news updates if we go cold turkey. I would argue that meaningful social connections can be nurtured to a better extent through instant messaging, as the act of talking to someone is more closely mimicked -compared to liking someone’s post or picture. In terms of the news, in my opinion I think we should be conscious of where we get our information from and whether the information we are getting is of high quality. In many cases it seems that we get overloaded with a lot of low quality news. So in a sense social media is sub optimal, for these practical functions. Some impacts of social media we can consciously quantify but others ( and these ones I think are more dangerous) simmer beneath the surface. I genuinely think that the world we live in is so absurd and the fact that we become acclimatised to it takes the trump card.

Much of how our society is structured is to act as a form of sedation, and those who question it are termed as extremists, conspiracy theorists and are placed on the fringes of what is socially acceptable. Some of the most chilling conversations I have with people are on the topics of social change and revolution when we hit a brick wall – « what can I do to change anything », « thinking about it makes me stressed out after a long day », « its a pointless exercise ». I end up shaking with anger, these same people who laud generosity, and helping the poor and vulnerable, yet they shut the doors to instigating impactful change so quickly. However the problem isn’t with them. This sedate inactivity is manufactured into the society we live in, with life engineered to make us stop caring about things that are out of our control. The masses are depoliticised, and we are left to spectate as big co-operations play their games. Nationalistic dogma tries to make us think we are in control: turn up to vote its your right ect ect, but these are empty statements. Who are we voting for? Not politicians who will represent and actively defend our interests, rather glorified beaurocrats some less corrupt than others. Not to say that voting is redundant- just that it doesn’t serve the purpose it once did- what was once an active participation in society has become passive without the masses realising.

I’m working through Adam Curtis’ documentary series ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ at the moment. I was planning to write this after finishing all six parts, but today after watching part four ( in my opinion the best one so far) something clicked for me. Ideas that had been circling in my head for a long time were tied together with the idea of individualism. Curtis’ analysis argues that we are living in the age of individualism, and that the old order has fundamentally changed. Where before the collective organised around the labouring masses, now instead we have become ‘free, individual and isolated’.

Consumerism appeals to the individual, coaxing us to externalise our self actualisation. Social media plays into this, showing us who we are and giving us a platform to individualise ourselves. I don’t think I need to add the malevolant horizon of big data to the horizon. All of it conspires to keep us individual and alone- free, because the biggest challenge to power is a cohesive organisation of the masses. We go online to escape, maybe even enjoy ourselves ( depending on the person), but what are we consuming on our feeds. A philosophy of consumerism- which capitalises of the individual.

I’ve been thinking about this new wave of ‘wokeness’ with people talking about important issues, primarily online, such as violence against women, Black Lives Matter, Asian hate. These are important discussions to be having but so much of what I see play out is cyclical and engenders no/little action. Anyone can go online and advocate for female only spaces, but have you spoken to women who have started these projects, thought practically about how you can get involved, a deeper reasoning behind the assertion which extends beyond the reactionary. To me all of this infographic activism, whilst well intentioned, is superficial and as a result is liable to being manipulated by capitalist forces therefore cancelling out its desired impact. What was once the biggest power that the lay people held, mass action, has become feeble and redundant because ultimately it is driven by a newly defined ‘populous of individuals’ who seek to define and further themselves – not the history, present community or future of the causes they affiliate themselves with. We become disjointed abstracts not out of will, but by necessity through these platforms.

The intersection between the individual and the collective is complex- and really is a blog post ( probably a dissertation lol) by itself. All I will say here is that I am currently reading a book titled The Waves by Virginia Woolf. It follows 5 characters, painted as distinct individuals but Woolf uses them to explore the concept of the collective. She carries on the post modernist tradition of T.S Eliots landmark work ‘The Wasteland’, to explore the abstraction and reorganisation of selfhood and relations to others through these characters through metafictionally, pastiche and fragmentedly vivid images and characters. The post modernists tried to capture their unstable and shifting post war times in their works, as we are today ( I would like to draw a parallel with hyperpop here as perhaps taking on the same role hehe). We live in a world seething with anxiousness, and we can look to forms of Art to capture what is as close as we can get to the emotional reality of things.

One of the standout features in the episode of Curtis’ documentary I watched today was Julia Grant’s segments, a transgender woman who had her transition documented on TV.

After all it is my mind, I know what I want and nobody can get inside me

Julia Grant

In her interaction with an NHS psychiatrist, I was reminded of a research wormhole I began to fall in during this term on anti-psychiatry, where key thinkers such as Szaz put forth that psychiatry, as was organised in their time ( and one could argue remains today), was a methodology for social control. What was chilling about the exchange was the power the psychiatrist ( an extension of the medical establishment and overall authority in general) had on negating Grant’s individualism. Nowadays the fight for the ability to ‘do what we want’- as one can imagine the only route this can go down is a sort of liberalism on steroids. We see it in the British psyche with the scarily polite political correctness. In a sense we have moved away from set moral standards, to do what you as the individual ‘perceive’ is right- for you. I think this is can be very damaging because the ground is no longer solid, and paranoia and uncertainty reigns in the background.

Welcome to my political views lmao. At the moment what seems to make sense to me is a move towards a balance of individual and collectivism. One can’t annihilate the individual to form the collective but vice versa is equally damaging. Robust ideological frameworks that bind rather than divide are necessary. Yet these can border on chauvinism and brainwashing. I think the only way to develop my thoughts on this is through direct action. Talking to people and actively organising, observing systems, criticising and learning. Looking to history and philosophies of revolutionary moments and their figures, searching for spiritual grounding through faith, understanding the state of the world and the individuals inside it through Art- these pursuits will help me understand what the flip is happening. Perhaps the thing that should keep me on this journey is that everything around me is absurd, the way we live here is so messed up. As soon as you lose sight of that fact, you lose the horizon and the waves of unfeelingness take you under.

xoxo love these thoughts for us human beings 👽

4 thoughts on “Individualism and Social Media

  1. This was a great read. I often ponder what the appropriate ratio of individualism to collectivism is necessary to live a good life. Negotiating when to put others or oneself first is difficult jungle to navigate especially when you try and reconcile the idea of the following your dreams but also doing what’s needed in order to serve your family/community.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes it’s really interesting to see the differences when you look at the ‘Western’ ideal as putting yourself before others but in different cultures around the world a sense of extended community is retained ( to varying extents). I think it’s this loss of integration within and obligation to community which leaves us ( westerners and even more so immigrants to the west) as isolated- therefore more prone to developing psychiatric issues.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Baatqa Barham 🤝 talking about revolutions, awesome ideas, and death

    Also social media — it makes us present ourselves as… brands. Shiny, exciting, neatly package-able, and all the rest of it [I sound like a grumpy old man but yes he is my spirit animal]

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank thee madam. Yah and this self presentation is a way for people to self actualise. It is a big part of the appeal, but it really draws you in- which in of itself is a scary thing when you think about ie the level of control it has on our minds. That’s what I’m struggling with now- I want to go on twitter and post cool quotes but with the knowledge of the ‘passenger effects’ of social media it deters me again.


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