Naturally, the human race continually strives to progress scientifically, politically and economically, all in the name of pursuing happiness. But, in a society where organic conversation is often replaced by an alarming array of pixelated emojis – is the rapid advancement in technology, and in particular social media, beneficial to our overall well-being?
Unhappiness is an inevitable part of the human condition. As German philosopher Nietzsche states, ‘to live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering’. We, as individuals, are prone to feeling isolated, estranged, and often dissatisfied. But why do we try to hide this? When did it become fashionable to only show our positive traits – idealising a false illusion of happiness that, ironically, only serves to make us feel inadequate, and subsequently unhappy? Developments in social media and online activity have a fundamental role to play in this debate. These days, opening Instagram is like opening a Dulux colour chart – you are faced with photoshopped, high res images of things that appear to be a brighter, better version of the world.
However, this illusory experience presents to us a mere reflection of reality, and becomes dangerous when we perceive it as a representation of real life. French avant-garde philosopher, Guy Debord, premeditated the rise of a ‘society of the spectacle’, a world where technology consumes natural human consciousness, replacing reality as we know it with an endless mirage of ‘illusory images’. Reminiscent of hypnotic subliminal advertising horror-stories, the thought of contemporary society mimicking Debord’s dystopian model isn’t hard to conjure. The crux of the issue is that our material surroundings heavily influence the fabric of society. The technology we use on a daily basis – laptops, phones, smartwatches and the like, all have a direct impact on our development as individuals. Guy Debord emphasises the inherent threat in this, writing that ‘the spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images’.
Considering the integral role that images themselves play in the vast majority of social media activity, Debord’s words could not be more fitting here. As social media expands and intensifies as an aspect of modern life and consciousness, it is essential to question the extent to which it masks true reality, and incites feelings of disillusionment and inadequacy as a result of this. Undoubtedly, Nietzsche would turn in his grave if he were told the phrase: #FOMO. However, the ‘fear of missing out’ is real, perpetuated by idealised versions of reality, and worth thinking about. So, advances in technology may not actually be making us happier. Perhaps society as a whole would benefit more from unveiling the reality of humanity online.
Humans are complicated, selfish and unpredictable by nature. But it’s this very fragility and diversity in character that colours the kaleidoscope of social diversity across the world. There’s merit in spreading optimism and positivity through social media, certainly, but to turn away from the reality of the human condition is regressive. If we were more honest with ourselves through social media, and opened our eyes to the value of reality itself, we would be awake and aware in a world that encourages an ignorant sleep. And, as Nietzsche eloquently states, ‘once you are awake, you shall remain awake eternally’.
Mentioned this week in Headcandy:
Guy Debord – The Society of the Spectacle
Friedrich Nietzsche – Thus Spoke Zarathustra