We human beings are social creatures. It’s natural for us to orient ourselves in terms of the world outside and what the people around us are thinking and doing. This socialization instinct is strongest in us when we’re young and still developing our own sense of identity. Historically speaking, this dynamic has typically played itself out in school and work environments and in various social rituals. Nowadays, the Internet has created a much vaster field for people to immerse themselves in.
The process of public validation is certainly not a new phenomenon. Writers, painters, filmmakers and poets have always had to contend with critics. In the days of pulp magazines, writers would see their words in print and then face the feedback (and possible backlash) of readers within the letters page of the magazine’s next issue. The main things that the Internet has changed are (1) the distance that the average person’s voice can reach to and be heard by multiple people at once and (2) the speed at which feedback can be given and received in this manner.
Both of these factors can work to encourage an “everybody can be a celebrity” mentality in a culture that already worships celebrities. Young people can be especially vulnerable to this. Adolescence is largely a process of unfolding identity (and one’s sense of it). It’s natural for people to compare themselves to others when they’re going through so many rapid changes and trying, in the midst of it all, to define who they are in terms of the world outside.
The Internet – particularly social media – has broadened the comparisons field to a size that we’ve never witnessed before. Moreover, the situation is such a recent development that no one can accurately gauge all of its long-term implications.
In our lives we experience many feelings and sensations that really need to gestate for a time before we can become clear about what they mean for us and thus can share them with others. In the writing community this process is sometimes referred to as creative composting. It is a process that can’t be rushed. We need to “digest” certain experiences before we can share them with others with any degree of clarity.
Social media often denies us that time – or rather, it creates the illusion that we don’t have that time simply because it’s possible for us to reach others and garner response so quickly (nearly spontaneously). We can do this without even the degree of intimacy that a phone call requires. Affirmation and response becomes more important than the experiences themselves. Many people don’t take the necessary time to check in with their own emotional reality. Instead of being resolved internally, personal issues are sorted out in a public forum.
The search for validation has its appeal only until a person has pursued it for long enough to realize that only emptiness waits on the other side. This journey will be different for each person, and may involve a series of disappointments. Social media offers many valuable opportunities for sharing across the Web, so long as people don’t become addicted to the validation that it (seemingly) provides.
Leung, L. (2013). Generational differences in content generation in social media: The roles of the gratifications sought and of narcissism Computers in Human Behavior, 29 (3), 997-1006 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2012.12.028
Maltby J (2010). An interest in fame: confirming the measurement and empirical conceptualization of fame interest. British journal of psychology (London, England : 1953), 101 (Pt 3), 411-32 PMID: 19646329
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