As of 2015 1.55 billion people are active on Facebook. 72% of these visit the site every month. There are 1.01 billion active users daily. Users spend on average over 20 minutes a day on Facebook. 83% of parent users are friends with their teenage children.
There are 1.3 billion people registered on Twitter. 100 million users are active daily. Users spend an average of 170 minutes a month on Twitter. 80% of world leaders use Twitter.
I could go on to list further such statistics about the likes of YouTube and Instagram, and it isn’t hard to do, just feed the right key words into Google and you can find it all out for yourself. It’s all quite staggering. And it all serves to elucidate the point that our world today, at least 1 billion people out of 7 – over 14% of the global population – is better connected with the inner lives of fellow human beings than ever before.
Think about it, by accessing a piece of plastic, you can find out what someone in Singapore is thinking, feeling, even doing. Think of the photographs we so proficiently share. Photo albums were once a matter of intimate family pride. They were brought out on special occasions for a select group of people. Now you can’t wake up without being told that someone wants to share a photo with you.
The rate and quality of the connectivity the developed world enjoys extends into all disciplines and fields. Poets can share poems with each other in a heartbeat, businessmen can advertise their wares all over the world, musicians can circumvent the machinations of their industry and have their songs heard by millions. Very few of us realise that the internet and social media now have a star-making capability never before seen in civilization: Psy, Justin Bieber, Susan Boyle, Kate Upton and Kim Kardashian (courtesy of her “leaked” sex-tape) all made it big owing to the world-wide power of sites such as YouTube and Twitter. Say what you will about the quality of superstars the internet is producing, no matter how much we all ridicule pitiable Bieber or secretly indulge in fat-jokes about Susan Boyle, truth of the matter is: all of us want to be them.
The internet has also given fifteen minutes of loud fame to many nondescript, average-joes, like the dancing man, the ain’t nobody got time for that woman and the Obama girl; all of whom, talent-less and tedious though they were, attained a kind of fame unheard of until our generation. And all these million-hit wonders have one thing in common: their fame was effortless, easy, and big.
There are, to even out my point before I’ve fully made it, talented people who were given just success by the internet phenomena machine: anyone from homeless people to pianists got their shot at fame, exempting no one in this uber-democratic sweep. But what are the implications of all this?
Let’s move away from the big stage and focus on the average, non-viral users of social media domains. That is: everyone else, you and me.
These days we do things on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that we would, in the past, only have done in public or at least around a select group of trusted people. That is in the past. Reclusiveness, privacy and hard-work are out, man. George Orwell in ‘1984’ gave us the haunting creation Big Brother who watched our every move and could convict us of thought-crime. What Orwell couldn’t foresee is a world where people willingly show and tell people what they’re doing, where thought-crime is defeated by constant statuses and tweets, and we are all now in on it, we are all Big Brothers, watching, whether we want to or not, what our neighbours and co-humans are doing and thinking
It is remarkably easy to be successful in such Big-Brother days. Or at least, it is easier to divulge an impression of success. You’ve got a promotion at work: put out statuses, tweets, photos, and memes, celebrate it with regal pomp. Truth of the matter is you’re still just a receptionist or secretary. You’ve scored a goal in a friendly match: put a video on it and make it look as though you were on Match of the Day. And put on some heavily edited photos as well, to make it look like you’re a professional model.
It isn’t alright to be a layabout anymore. How can you be, when all your friends and co-tweeters are doing so well, getting so many hits for their videos and shares of their posts? You have to be someone, don’t you, and, let’s face it, if you can’t make it online, you can’t make it anywhere. Success is a bare minimum. But there is also a bare minimum amount of work that needs to be done. And what does this create?
It creates people who want to be the next big thing and are too lazy to work for it. It is as if the internet is some sort of Genie that can grant us our wishes at the wave of a wand. And this is bad news for people who are actually hard workers. Social media does not reward the scientists working in cancer research, or doctors-without-borders, or those men and women that earn a living playing in national orchestras; if it’s not flashy and media-worthy, it’s just thrown aside.
Teenagers today all aspire to be the next Ronaldo or Miley Cyrus – not because those are the major superstars but because they think, if they film themselves doing some flashy tricks with a football or their own tits, they could actually make it. Tell teenagers, just suggest, for them to become astronauts, like they used to, or vets or politicians, and they will tell you; Oh but you need to know physics and biology and sociology… it takes years!
And what’s wrong with studying years for a cherished dream? You won’t have enough free time to try your hand at being a sensation!
Look at it in microcosm. Imagine a small group of friends. Maybe ten teenage boys and girls. Six of them, the cool core of the group, want to go to a party next weekend. The other four want to stay home and watch films and read. The weekend comes, the six go to the party and the four stay home reading and watching films. The six put up pictures, tell brash stories of how great the party was, how much they drank and pulled. The four just remain quiet and listen. Next weekend, what is more likely, the six will stay home to read, or the four will join the six for the next party?
It’s the same, in macrocosm, on social media. It is part of our human nature: we are all dreamers. But our dreams now are no longer private domains, our castles in the sky now have open windows for all to see into. Most of us want fame and wealth, or at least a shot at it. If we see others who are our peers, perhaps less-talented or driven people than us, making it big whilst we chase sincere yet far-fetched dreams, we get envious and self-critical. We don’t want to be the ones left behind.
So we alter our dreams, make them more mainstream, as if they were a commodity, and instead of working to be a doctor or even just an electrician, we look around for that quick funicular to the top of the mountain.
And that’s all fine. I am not advocating the de-popularisation of social media nor promoting any kind of snobbery. We all want to make it. Even if it’s just being shared, or liked or re-tweeted. Hell, if that weren’t the case I wouldn’t be writing this blog and sharing it. I would just keep it locked away in a near-to-hand drawer. Dreams are addictive and it’s better to dream much than not at all.
But what happens when dreams don’t come true? What if YouTube doesn’t make you the next Lindsay Lohan or Justin Bieber? Now you realise you’ve wasted weeks, months, years being lazy, trying to dominate the social media kingdoms, and you’ve left yourself no time for anything else. Slowing down is a virtue. Doing things for their own sake and not just for their marketability is meaningful. But dare we admit it?
Entire lifestyles are being made to change by what I call the twittergeist. Or zeitbook, take your pick. I’ve noticed so many people who never before cared about personal fitness going to the gym for the first time in their lives, only to go home and post hashtags and pictures of them working out, taking selfies in front of gym mirrors. Others share newspaper articles constantly and give an in-line critique of whatever is going on. Most put up photos of what they’ve cooked, healthy recipes too, from people who crave nothing more than real good food indifferent of healthiness. People work longer hours and post from work, just so no one things they work any less than anyone else. We are all of us making ourselves live in the public eye.
This phenomena even extends itself into politics. Entire regimes are toppled overnight because of social-media outcry against them, without a single thought being given to the future, past the morrow; a symptomatic ailment of the world’s general short-sightedness. The Arab Spring would not have occurred without the influence of social media (think only of the poor child named Facebook in Egypt) – but we’ve seen what came after the Spring: a tawdry Fall.
And of course, when you know your every move is being watched, you’re going to make damn sure that the image you present to the world is as refined and cropped as possible. It’s like the way old grandmothers used to go on a cleaning spree when they knew that guests were coming over to their house. Except, for them, when their guests left, they could enjoy a night full of honest-to-god scruffiness. But we, now: we never switch off.
Away from all the excitement, all the buzz, all the vanity and adulation, a sinister transformation is taking place oblivious even us to whom it’s happening. And when it all gets old, what will glare back at us from the un-polished mirror?