It is Saturday night. I am sitting in my dorm room, watching my sixth episode of 30 Rock and eating my second pint of Ben and Jerry’s of the night. In between episodes, I switch tabs to Facebook out of reflex, and I see thousands upon thousands (read: several) of mobile uploads and Instagrams of everyone I know doing cool, fun, social things — things that I wasn’t invited to, or things that I turned down because I just wanted a quiet night.
I’m sure the above scenario feels at least somewhat familiar. You are having a nice, quiet evening at home and suddenly, you’ve fundamentally failed. Everyone you know is out and socializing and making sure you know about it. Your news feed screams: “I’m at a concert! I went to a cool restaurant! We’re out socializing! It’s 11 p.m., and you’re … watching The Emperor’s New Groove and wearing pajamas?”
Maybe I’m being oversensitive, and social media isn’t actively trying to make me feel bad about myself. But it sure seems like it. Just think about the very structure of social media: public communication. Yes, there are private messages, but the entire structure of Facebook was revolutionary in its advent of widespread public communication. We often accept this as normal, but think about the last time you wrote on someone else’s wall. Couldn’t you have conveyed the same information via private chats?
Sometimes the publicity of wall posts is necessary. But most of the time, the reason for the publicity is the desire to make sure everyone is aware of your interaction, your friendship or your event. Think about something as simple as “I had a fun time last night .” Why must that be a wall post rather than a private message? When I read wall posts like this, I really read, “Hey everyone, look at me: I socialized and had fun!” Indeed, when you write on someone’s wall, you are not solely communicating to the person, but also to everyone else who’s reading it.
This exhibitionism is inherent to social media: communication is no longer just communication. It is marketing, and it shapes how we are perceived by our community. Facebook helps us sell to the world that we are constantly having fun.
Social media takes on even more importance first semester freshman year, as it serves to validate via exhibition newly forming friendships. I’m sure you remember from your freshman year; beginning late August, the stream of mobile uploads appearing on your news feed is relentless. Many of them, of course, are from late nights out, often a picture of someone doing something weird with a caption that references some inside joke that no one besides the picture taker and the subject of the picture understand. In some cases, the caption of the picture, or even a tagged status, is purposely drunkenly misspelled. Occasionally, you see a mupload in broad daylight, perhaps of two roommates with a caption like “roomie love <3.” Of course, this phenomenon is not limited to Yale. It is prevalent at every undergraduate institution, and you are as likely to see such posts from your old high school acquaintances as from Yale students. This exhibitionist instinct is nearly universal.
One might argue that these muploads serve as reminders. But a photo would sufficiently serve this purpose. No — muploads do more than remind; they validate. All new friendships in the Facebook era must go through this gestation, suggesting that if the public does not recognize a friendship (or an event or fun night), it didn’t happen. Friendships must be seen, and, more importantly, liked, to be recognized. Which brings up an interesting question: if a mupload is taken in a forest, and no one sees it, are the people even friends? Did they even go out last night? Are they even people?
I don’t necessarily think the need for validation is new with social media, but social media certainly facilitates it. I’m also not going to command you to stop muploading and wall-writing, so you can rest easy. Rather, I implore you to consider friendships and events for what they are, and not worry how many likes they will receive. An unliked mupload in the forest is just as valuable as one that’s heard all around.
Charles Bardey is a freshman in Silliman College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.