Drew Austin references Zygmunt Bauman, an author I referenced in my thesis, in relation to personhood and social media. Really interesting.
Austin’s blog, which he seems to have abandoned in favour of a newsletter, discussed his friend recommending the creation of an an ‘alt’ persona “in order to break free of some of the restrictions that an online persona imposes.” I find this interesting in light of my thinking about nuking everything and starting again.
(PS what are we calling Substack newsletter displayed on the internet these days? I think I’ll just call them web pages.)
In his 2000 book Liquid Modernity, Bauman wrote: “Seen from a distance, (other people’s) existence seems to possess a coherence and a unity which they cannot have, in reality, but which seems evident to the spectator. This, of course, is an optical illusion. The distance (that is, the paucity of our knowledge) blurs the details and effaces everything that fits ill into the Gestalt. Illusion or not, we tend to see other people’s lives as works of art. And having seen them this way, we struggle to (make our lives) the same.”
As Bauman presciently realized, the constraints of these digital environments and the sheer volume of users endows even the flimsiest online presences with an illusion of unity. Showing up frequently enough in the feed might elevate one’s presence to a work of art, at least from everyone else’s distracted perspective, and this in turn motivates us all to present our own selves more artfully. The speed of the information flow is essential to the entire illusion: A platform like Twitter makes our asynchronous posts feel like real-time interaction by delivering them in such rapid succession, and that illusion begets another more powerful one, that we’re all actually present within the feed.
Something I frequently joke about—a dark truth that begs for humor—is how social media requires continuous posting just to remind everyone else you exist. I once said that if Twitter was real life our bodies would always be slowly shrinking, and tweeting more would be the only way to make ourselves bigger again. We can always opt out of this arrangement, of course, and live happily in meatspace, but that is precisely the point: Offline we exist by default; online we have to post our way into selfhood. Reality, as Philip K. Dick said, is that which doesn’t go away when you stop believing in it, and while the digital and physical worlds may be converging as a hybridized domain of lived experience and outward perception, our own sustained presence as individuals is the quality that distinguishes the two.