I can remember when MySpace first came out. Not being a very sociable person myself (and not hugely into music), particularly at that age, I didn’t buy into it like most of my friends and peers. A couple years into its existence I got bored one evening and decided to do some MySpace stalking of the pages belonging to those friends and peers (I’m not proud of this). The overriding thought after just a few moments of looking was, “This person is not actually like this.” The image MySpace was being used to portray of the people I knew was nothing like the people I knew (except for maybe their taste in music).
Oscar Wilde once said, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
In some ways this is true, we are less worried about the repercussions of confession when our identity is hidden, Catholicism has built the sacrament of confession around this fact. However, a mask does in itself hide a significant amount of truth. A mask hides what gender you are, your age, your race/ethnicity, your emotions; a mask gives you the ability to choose what basic information people can learn about you by looking at you. A mask can change what that information says.
And so I think that this is where Wilde and I would part ways, because I would suggest that as long as we have a choice (a mask) what people see or learn when they look at us, it is impossible for people to ever know the real us. Intimacy can never be found when wearing a mask, because it requires an openness and vulnerability that a mask, in its very nature, removes.
This is the fundamental struggle that I have with social media (I am aware that I have just written this on a blog and will use twitter to advertise it), particularly with Facebook. Because Facebook allows you to choose, both in your profile and in day to day status updates and photos, how people see you it is impossible for the image you portray on Facebook to be a real likeness of yourself. Reality depends on the things we would rather people didn’t know about us being known.
Now, I think I do need to add to this by saying that I think people do use and have used Facebook in creatively redemptive ways. However, if the point of Facebook is relationships (it is a SOCIAL media), and every person is portrayed in various degrees of untruths because of the mask Facebook mandatorily provides, what sort of subtle and corrupting damage is Facebook doing to the way we see and handle and experience relationships?
More than that, every moment spent developing relationships within the world of Facebook are moments spent developing false relationships with false identities instead of developing real relationships with the actual person. Even when Facebook is used to heal broken relationships, you have to question whether that healing takes place within the real person or their masked personality.
If we truly want to develop intimate and meaningful relationships with people we need to make sure that the majority of the time spent doing that is out in the open, instead of behind a mask. So in answer to the title of this post, I struggle enough as it is keeping my relationships healthy and therefore can’t afford to waste precious relationship time in my day and week interacting with images of people instead of the real deal.
We need to be careful that we don’t stop forgetting who we actually are ourselves by only seeing the image of ourselves we portray on social media.