(Ok folks, this is applicable to all, including myself)
Imagine this: 1.5 billion actors in a staged drama, based on a hybrid of forum theatre and device theatre. Each with a role to play and most, if not all, believing themselves to be in the lead. Each setting themselves up for a part that has been formulated and scripted individually but created to fit into a generalized norm of the entire drama. Changing their scripts and their roles according to external stimuli from other actors who switch incessantly and unpredictably between being part of a play, part of an audience and part of an indifferent group of people with other things to do. Each carefully engaging in specific parts of the action that they feel they are most suited to play given the scripts that they have written for themselves. Depending on their mood at each given moment, constantly cheering, heckling, ignoring and, responding to the creative efforts of the rest of the actors. Imagine also that they do this day-in day-out, year-in year-out with little or no desire to second guess their dramatic activities let alone give themselves some respite. Regularly, these actors die and for each that dies, a dozen line up to take their place.
I am describing the great drama of the world according to life on a continent of 1.5 billion people right? Wrong.
You see, in life, one can rarely be a complete actor. One is generally incapable of scripting an entire life and one’s persona is generally a crock whose content is part confusing, part difficult to describe, part jewel, part junk and part gunk – all of which is out there in the public domain for everyone else to critique. In life, one cannot easily choose one’s engagements nor is one allowed to enter into engagements on the strength of mere whim or fancy. Nor does one have much time to consider one’s position before responding to calls to action. In life, one’s entire take on it is quickly and utterly known to others whether one likes it or not.
So, it should be apparent that this is the world according to social networking that I am talking about. That wonderful, easy, convenient virtual geography where there is apparently a near total exchange and sharing of everything with everyone. Or…is it?
I am not so sure. You see, few realize that on those networks, they are subconsciously engaged in a frantic battle to bring themselves, their lives and their ideas into relevance and acceptance for the people that they engage. Trying to give as convincing a performance as they possibly can, each time they step up on that stage. Good or bad, that which is publicized is geared towards the overarching desire for external relevance. In so doing, they create, knowingly or unknowingly, consciously or unconsciously, a hybridized persona for themselves that is a highly selective extraction from their completely incomplete, fully compromised, massively encumbered real life one.
In many instances, this persona can be invasive and dangerous for themselves and for others for it doesn’t remain static but transforms itself into a larger than life fairytale that one starts to believe in and promote despite evidence to the contrary.
This doesn’t happen on day one of engagement of social networks. Most start by bringing their whole selves to this place but then something happens. Their initial forays into social engagement on a medium where stimulus-response is near instantaneous tells them quickly what flies and what dies on the relevance scale and, unconsciously for most, there is an automatic sifting out of the later. Then the changeling arrives, quietly, creepily, slinking in, unnoticed, through the backdoor leading into that darkened alley behind this virtual stage.
Living solely for itself, it cuts away those parts of its host that are contra-indicated for its continued existence and expands and blows up those parts which feed it. Not all of it is going to be true to the reality of the host. In fact, to strengthen its persona, a changeling will absorb and call its own, increasingly large swaths of “personality” that have very little to do with its living, breathing seed persona and in many cases is actually diametrically opposite to it. Unlike real reality, where it is not possible to click oneself out with “unavailable”, check oneself in to friendship with a button, like things without a clue as to what one is liking, comment on things unasked or stalk a friend’s friend’s friend’s friend without getting extra appendages on one’s anatomy permanently unfriended, this is very easy to do in a cosmos where everything can be colored or changed or manipulated or altered without much effort. Quicker than most would imagine, it takes over, much like a parasite, most of its host’s mind, leaving behind only enough of it for the pesky but necessary purpose of acquiring sustenance to keep it physically alive.
And those changelings, by their texts, responses, photos, videos, likes and shares, are telling others to view them through a lens that they have carefully ground for the purpose well in advance. Much like actors, they characterize that persona to the hilt. On the part of a single individual, such drama and such play acting is no great crime but what happens when every single member of that community is doing the same?
Then, the drama becomes reality.
So much so that people hypnotize themselves into believing that this selective reality is in fact, their complete reality. This too is no great crime except for the fact that there is, undeniably, another reality kicking around. One which they must live in, not type in or post in. That reality becomes increasingly inconvenient to a lot of people for it is mostly uncontrollable and mostly flawed. Therefore, the nouveau changeling naturally starts to engage more and more on the virtual version of it until it completely takes over its waking living relevance. Virtual reality then goes through two specific stages of transmogrification. First it becomes sort of an alternate reality and then completes the change into real reality. This is as it should be. The changeling can only exist in a changed, re-engineered reality you see. It cannot exist in the cosmos from which its host came.
Now, as long as it exists in this alternatively re-engineered reality, all is quiet. However, the host, however debilitated, does exist. Therefore, it, and its actions in the living, breathing world are still relevant to that world. But these are hidden from the other actors in the alternative cosmos. In extreme cases which are more common than assumed, a changeling diplomat could be a bully in reality, a teetotaler and alcoholic, a feminist a wife beater, a Bible basher a serial rapist. Most are not going to be that extreme, only selectively altering their actual personas to fit their assumed ones but even that relatively mild distortion towards a perceived “better self or more collectively relevant and recognized self” could act as a drug so strong that the habit of living exclusively with it is impossible to quit. Worse, there is no cause to quit because everyone else is equally hooked on it. Why battle the husband to keep a marriage going when they can fly into the arms of their adoring social community? Why stay with one wife when they can have 200 of the virtual variety who present themselves to one in their best possible light? In a world of cause and effect, the positive effect of created realities far outweighs that of actual ones. Why give up on something so satisfying? Why reject something that keeps one from engaging in the tough task of real social engagement? This drug is cheap, intoxicating, impossibly addictive and incessantly joyous.
1.5 billion pretenders worth of joyous.