You may not remember the first time you ever looked at your phone, but you can certainly remember the last time you did so. It was most likely within the past few minutes -- maybe even seconds. Staying connected, being wanted, wanting to be wanted and the constant need for affirmation has led us to tune out who we really are. "Hey over here, look at me please!" Our Facebook pages are filled only with the good times, our Instagrams with those moments that reek of bad holiday brochures, albeit through a snazzy filter. We become reduced to that moment. It seems that our biggest fear is being seen as we really are. Instead, "the Internet ego" is such that we are continually presenting the very best of the best moment EVER!
But what effect do these idealized self-projections have on other human beings? Even the healthiest among us have suffered occasional feelings of envy -- possibly even bitterness -- over the seeming perfection of an acquaintance's life as represented online. A number of recent studies have actually drawn positive correlations between feelings of loneliness and depression with time spent on social media. This all plays into what social psychologists call "social comparison theory" -- the idea that we define our social and individual worth based on how we measure up to others. These comparisons are based of course on our own perceptions, now increasingly warped through the prism of social media. Think of how the severity of this phenomenon might intensify when we have an individual whois already mentally unstable, alienated, disenfranchised. The effects can be chilling - even terrifying.
And what happens when we reach the point where the chorus of voices -- all competing to be heard at all times -- simply drown each other out? What if, in the end, no one is really paying attention? Not because we do not care, but because the onslaught is such that we cannot care. With too much of everything we risk losing our voices. We risk being as relentless as we are ubiquitous, and in that we become truly anonymous.
In Elliot Rodgers we witnessed not just a sad indictment of the gun laws and a clearly unwell child. We also saw just how willing we are as a society to dismiss important warning messages in favor of frivolous memes and viral videos. Rodgers posted his angry rants, which we ignored and collectively watched after the fact. We damned the police, the parents, the guns, and the horror of it all. However, along with that, we should be looking further and further into the sense of alienation that arises by simply not being heard. What was really going through Rodgers' mind as he sat in his BMW and recorded himself? Who was it for? Who was he trying to reach? I imagine the same audience that Cho Seung-Chi was broadcasting to before he entered Virginia Tech with automatic weapons.
In our film NIGHTINGALE we explore a number of these themes through the character of Peter Snowden. As an outsider who longs for some sort of intimate connection with another human being, but is unable to access such a relationship, Peter creates a comforting illusion for himself by broadcasting his thoughts and feelings to strangers in cyberspace. But this illusion is fragile and hollow; in the end it only serves to magnify his loneliness. The results are violent and devastating.
While the World Wide Web and social media have undoubtedly brought us many gifts, including connectivity and ease of accessing information, we are clearly losing something along the way.