A Generation Obsessed With Obsessing Over Itself

Quitting Twitter, as trivial as it may seem, got me thinking a lot about social media and the internet in general. Let's dive straight into it with a recent example.
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Last week Leonard Friend released a music video for his song "Gatorade & Tylenol," which consists of a frenzy of found-footage coupled with random musings scrawled on a note pad. Below is the thought process that led to this video.

I recently mostly-quit Twitter. By "mostly-quit," I mean that I still occasionally browse posts by others and I still post news related to my career, but I no longer allow myself the constant posting and interacting I was guilty of before. I did this because I am addicted to my phone and laptop, and having an application that updates in real time several times a minute only fed this addiction. I would check my Twitter in the middle of having a conversation with somebody, I would check my Twitter in the middle of a movie, I would check my Twitter in the middle of the night. I mean, that's a problem. So thar she blows. No more twitter. I'm still overactive on Facebook, but my first step was Twitter, and it was a big one for me.

Quitting Twitter, as trivial as it may seem, got me thinking a lot about social media and the internet in general. Let's dive straight into it with a recent example: Mother's Day 2013 x Facebook. This year more than ever, my feed was a relentless barrage of "Happy Mother's Day to ______, the best mother in the world. You've made me who I am, and your strength and wisdom have inspired me BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH." So I would like to ask, in all sincerity: For whom are we posting these gushing platitudes? Because it is most certainly NOT for our mothers, who probably don't give a shit about Facebook. Is it for our friends, so they can know that your mother is, in fact, the best mother, not to be confused with every other friend who also has the best mother? Seriously. Who is it for?

Another example, one which is perhaps darker and more somber but also more paradigmatic of a larger point, is our reactions on social media to tragedies. "My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Boston tonight." "My heart goes out to Oklahoma." "My father's brother's ex girlfriend is from Boston, and I know how difficult this must be for her because I was in New York on September 11th." Let me make this clear: I am not making light of tragedy and loss of life. But again, I come back to the same question: for whom are we posting our "thoughts and prayers?" I imagine that if you had close friends or family in Boston you'd probably want a more immediate way of reaching them than a Facebook post. And if the only people you know are some random college classmates with whom you haven't spoken in 10 years, do you think they feel particularly heartened by your post?

Upon pondering these questions and sifting through posts of Buzzfeed's "ZOMG The Best 25 Commercials for Bubble Yum From The 90s" lists, I came to a troubling conclusion: My generation is just absolutely fucking obsessed with itself. We are posting not for our mothers, but for ourselves. We are extending our thoughts and prayers via Facebook (because, mind you, in order to think and pray about somebody you don't actually need to post about it) not because we think they will actually reach the victims, but because we have a never ending desire to make ourselves part of The Conversation. We are coming up with elaborate public marriage proposals not to create a special moment that will mean something to us for the rest of our lives, but because we feel the need to share this event with millions of strangers and maybe end up on Ellen (FINGERS CROSSED!).

The internet has created a bizarre feedback loop. We post and repost videos of Joseph Kony or the protests in Turkey thinking that we're changing the world, but we're not (whoever coined the phrase "slacktivism" should win some sort of Pulitzer Prize). We're changing the internet, and on the internet everything is simultaneously eternal and fleeting. On one hand, the internet allows everything to live forever -- a land where we can instantly find and watch any obscure TV show or movie from our childhood, or where we can use TimeHop to see what we ourselves posted on Facebook on any given day in years past. But on the other hand, now everything moves so quickly and the "on to the next one" culture is so pervasive that one moment you can be Psy, racking up a billion views on your music video and having it be the most shared and watched video EVER IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND, and the next moment you can be... well, Psy in 2013.

That dichotomy of immediacy and eternality is the irony of the internet and social media, and that is why I was only able to mostly-quit twitter: although the internet is ostensibly forever, I was concerned that if I backed off of social media altogether and removed myself from the feedback loop that I'd miss everything as it happened in real time. I had to grapple with the knowledge that the next time Beyonce releases a new single, I might have to wait a couple days before hearing about it. The next time a celebrity dies, it may take me a few hours to find out as opposed to a few seconds. Essentially, I would no longer be part of The Conversation. And that was a surprisingly and profoundly scary notion.

Perhaps one day I'll see if I can conquer that fear and engage in a total social media blackout, but for now my "mostly-quit Twitter" status means I am mostly-still a part of my generation's ostentatious relationship with itself via social media (see: writing a blog entry about mostly-quitting Twitter). We are all Buzzfeed's pandering nostalgia lists. We are all Throwback Thursday. We are all Dove Real Beauty Sketches. We are all #ThoughtsandPrayers. In the end, I'm not really sure what we are. But whatever it is, we sure are eager to share it with the world in the hopes that the girl who lived down the hall in our sophomore dorm ten years ago "likes" it.

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