Illustration by Charlotte Fassler
In the last two weeks I have read three lengthy, analytical assessments of my generation, honing in predominantly on that which we do wrong.
First, there was the New York Times Opinionator piece by Christy Wanpole, titled How to Live Without Irony, declaring this generation one of ironists. Then there was a late November issue of New York Magazine, including an article titled I Really Like That You Like What I Like. It dubbed the internet of today too friendly for its own good, comparing it briefly to its previous iteration: an eery, anonymous hotbed of anger. And finally, over this past weekend, I read about humble bragging in (again,) the New York Times.
This is something I have indubitably mastered, (see: I’m in Scotland with Chanel but O.M.G. it is so cold! Glad they gave me a scarf!), which I would argue is highly possible because of Instagram’s amplifying popularity and our strive to document everything we do, see, and are in real time.
But there’s a fundamental problem with the notion of real time and that is: an absence of thoughtfulness. Maybe if I thought about how silly it might look to post, for example, an image of Kanye West, captioned, “I can’t believe we’re at the same party–how did I get invited to this?” I wouldn’t do such things as often. But maybe, also, there’s something to my humble brag-harvested inclination in conjunction with those pesky, high volume likes.
I am highly disturbed that a digital thumb up has the ability to fill a highly visceral void manifesting within me with the same level of compassion that say, a compliment, hug, or, heck, confession of undying love could. The maniacal pace at which I check newly uploaded Instagram photos, tweets, and (even still,) Facebook statuses is disconcerting.
Why are you liking what I like? Why am I liking what you like? Have we become so dependent on social networking as a primary force of communication that we can’t handle real feeling anymore? It scares me that I can watch a friend’s facial expression shift from suicidal to elated because, “oh my God, he just liked my throwback Thursday picture!”
Even more, it scares me that exciting (and consequently) devastating news can spread faster through the internet than by word of mouth. I read in Jezebel last week that a set of parents learned their daughter had died at her college by way of her Facebook wall. On it were several RIP notes that had received plentiful likes. But what is that sort of interaction–at, not with, someone–if not a twisted, immoral fight for likes? Who are we becoming?
Perhaps another strain of anonymous commenter. While we’re not necessarily hiding behind pseudonyms and ambiguous monikers anymore, we are deliriously double tapping shit that we don’t even care about. We’re hiding behind our own identities and using our seemingly useless power to mark our respective presence. But why?
The Times piece on irony fails to mention why we have become so accustomed to delivering and digesting information ironically. Though I’m no expert, (see that, here’s my half-humble, ironic plea, to ask that you refrain from offending my opinion,) maybe, it’s got something to do with that allegedly deceased hotbed of anger–(frankly, the internet will always be a haven for hostility.) Would we have become this ironic if we didn’t feel like self deprecation was the crutch of maintaining internet neutrality? Why don’t I identify what’s wrong with what I’m saying (but still say it,) before capital A-Anonymous gets to it and depletes my morale?
But where irony prevails now, likes may fail. Once the irony trickles down from the content supplier to the content consumer, the seemingly useless power will grow exponentially stronger. We are conditioning ourselves to enter a world where while using our anti-anonymous, anonymous identities, we can passively and ironically “like” all the things we hate. I’ve just got to wonder, are we ready for that?