Dagdha's Blog

Experimentation with a Celebrity Culture

Posted in Uncategorized by dagdha on October 10, 2010

Three months ago I disabled my Facebook account as part of a personal experiment.  My unremarkable rebellion against the modern phenomenon of social networking was largely driven by growing privacy concerns, Mark Zuckerberg’s tyrannical justifications for the site’s changes, and my desire to reduce the metaphorical noise of daily life.  Although my abstinence from Facebook has created a sense of social isolation (or rather the actual realization of such), I have gained an invaluable perspective from the experience.

Initially, I deactivated my account in an effort to become more productive.  Over the last eight months I have continually taken on more responsibilities, and I’m always struggling to find more time.  Eventually I decided that I no longer needed to spend my precious moments of leisure reading about a casual acquaintance harvesting a turnip in Farmville.  Additionally, the constantly changing privacy policies became an unnecessary nuisance.  It’s scary when you consider that content posted to Facebook is saved forever, regardless of what actions you take to hide/change/delete the content, which could be accessed by anybody if the company’s CEO suddenly decides “it’s the way of the future.”  Consequently, I abandoned my primary tool of widespread communication for the last five years.  By the end of the the third week I no longer struggled with the temptation to log on.

Roughly a month into my experiment, the company I work for decided to implement “Chatter” with our CRM, which is basically a proprietary Facebook integrated with our database of customer information; this sparked a lengthy conversation between the CEO and myself.  As we discussed our opinions about the social networking phenomenon, he proposed that its proliferation was largely the result of what he calls the “modern celebrity culture,” namely a culture driven by ego of the individual; this was a perfect summation of my own abstract sentiments.  Facebook, and social networking in general, provides the individual with tools to create a virtual shrine of one’s own thoughts, actions, accomplishments, and memories, all for the sake of getting as much attention (in the form of “likes,” comments, etc.) as possible.  I’m not arguing that everyone who uses social networking is an egomaniac, but simply that the site’s development has been largely driven by features meant to inflate one’s sense of self, which universally makes anyone feel good.

As our conversation continued, we debated whether this “celebrity culture” would last.  Although he believes the trend is here to stay, I have a more cynical view.  If this new culture is based on personal ego, which I would differentiate from national or political ego, then I believe it’s only a matter of time before society collapses.  Historical examples show this time and time again – the Egyptians, Romans, Persians, Incas, Mayans… Over time pride becomes hubris, which often destroys cultures from within.  As my boss is a very religious person, I mentioned the Bible as a prime source for such examples.  Like most of our conversations, this was a very thought-provoking dialectic.

I hope my opinions here are not interpreted as a sense of self-righteousness, for that is the antithetical aim of my whole experiment.  Two years ago this month I started studying martial arts, which I have come to learn is just as much about philosophy as it is physical training.  One key principle that I think applies to all martial arts is suppressing one’s ego.  You cannot consistently train for months on end, constantly being corrected and critiqued, unless you are able to swallow your pride, which can be exceedingly challenging at times.  Nevertheless, I have seen the benefits of practicing this principle in all areas of my life.  By extension, my decision to abstain from Facebook was heavily influenced by a desire to further humble my own sense of self.

Since I deactivated my Facebook account, my productivity has skyrocketed.  I did not realize how much time I actually spent browsing people’s profiles and different news feeds.  At times I do feel isolated from people without a convenient medium for networked communication like Facebook, but conversely I have been able to more keenly develop my personal relationships.  I’ve also been able to read quite a few books on my never-ending list.  Overall, I’ve started to view Facebook a lot like television – it can provide hours of entertainment and be a great tool for communication, but the invasion of capitalistic endeavors is destroying the quality of its original design, and it continues to isolate people from one another who would otherwise be socializing face to face.

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