Painted Cakes Do Not Satisfy Hunger
–Be Here Now, by Ram Dass
In researching the phenomena of Facebook, I came across this article on how it is negatively altering our minds. In it, the author describes the social network as an addiction, ensnaring us in a dopamine loop, diminishing our attention spans, keeping us in a filtered bubble, and ultimately diminishing our sense of self-worth. Facebook is evil, making us stupid, and leading to the demise of humanity. We need to get off of it and pursue things that truly facilitate deep brain and mind development – like books, exercise, and meditation. We need to be getting out and be doing real things that actually matter.
The author ends the article with this final remark: Facebook is a megaheap of Painted Cakes, leaving many of us feeling more empty for looking at them. Is that your experience? What are YOU going to do?
As a skeptic, I remain cautious of and question all ideas. As a queer, I am resistant to accepting any monolithic theoretical claims about identity. And as an existentialist, I know that who I am is shaped by my experiences. So what has my experience been with Facebook? How has it shaped my identity? And what am I going to do?
I originally joined Facebook in college when it was only available to other college students. When I began my gender transition, I deleted my Facebook account because I was in a way, starting my life over. After settling more comfortably into my trans identity, I felt like I was ready to connect with people again and share this “new person.”
In this way, Facebook gave me the power to construct my identity in the ways that I wanted to, instead of allowing people’s past perceptions of myself get in the way of understanding how I actually saw my self. I could change my name, my gender, connect with trans and queer support groups, and spread information further and more rapidly than I could outside of the online world.
Just because our Facebook profile or identity exists in a virtual realm does not mean it isn’t as real as our offline identity. In Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory, he explains how our psyche is structured in a triptych of terms–the Imaginary (our ego, or the way we view ourselves), the Symbolic (the external information our self has to process), and the Real (impossible to achieve because it exists outside of language and resists symbolization absolutely).
Facebook is just another form of the Symbolic, which has a variety of effects on the Imaginary, and is inextricably tied and work in tension with the Real. The real you is impossible to express in language because the very entrance into language marks our irrevocable separation from the real. You wouldn’t say Bruce Wayne is any more (or less) real than Batman, would you?
Facebook may be viewed as a mediated performance, which can only be understood in relation to a sort of intangible element of our Real selves, as our outer selves are already socially constructed. In which case, narcissism is not only what saves our engagement in the virtual from total perversity, but may also help us practice a negotiation between how we understand our authentic selves and our idealized self-image. As long as we approach the social network in the right way. The Facebook profile is an idealized, publicly presented self. So is the person sitting in front of the screen.
When I moved out to Seattle, Facebook was an essential part of how I began connecting with all of the new people I was coming into contact with. I still use it this way, and continue to expand my social circle and also keep up with friends who are fare away. Had it not been for me putting a call out on Facebook for help when I broke my ankle, I wouldn’t have made it to the ER or the pharmacy the next day. With the events feature, I can keep track of various things that are happening around town, and stay connected with my communities. We are an open-system, integrally related, dependent on one another for existence and actuality. For me, Facebook is about further developing and encouraging connection.
What I am going to do is view Facebook as one of many cakes in the bakery of life. We should continually be evaluating both our online and offline selves to promote socially conscious behavior. It is a continuous process and the ways we use it will be ever-changing.
Like everything else that is Symbolic in our lives, it should never be the one and only way of interacting with our Imaginary. There is a necessity of the space in between, which helps us understand there is no essential meaning in anything. We are amidst a great shift in the evolution of identity, human consciousness and connectivity. What will you do?