If there is one thing I know for sure, is that I think, therefore I exist, and therefore, most certain of all, I am inevitably stupid.
A month ago, all I wanted to do was to promote myself. I wanted to get more followers from Twitter and the likes (YouTube views, Facebook fans, etc.). I think the best self description here would be: “attention whore”. Twitter was the best medium for this self exposure since Facebook doesn’t exactly give you that “smart” image. So I did it all from jumping into popular hashtags, to following everyone who mentions that hashtag and who follows me, to linking my account with an RSS twitterfeed account and of course doing all the necessary work with the SMO (Social Media Optimization) and placing the just the right words in the bio. And, for the cherry on top, I used Hootsuite to monitor anything that mentions interesting things going on town and of course, did not forget to jump into Klout every now and then to check my score.
Basically, I treated my own online existence as a brand and I made the mistake of applying what I teach my clients. I stopped being Assaad (the person) and became: Beirutiyat, I stopped being a person, and became a thing. Instead of having a cool name (Beirutiyat) to promote what I believe in, I became a slave of my own handle (name on Twitter), trying to push myself all the time to find topics, read articles and publish content to stay “in shape” – meanwhile my belly wasn’t exactly in the best shape :p
The same thing happens with other platforms, you insert Rapporative in order to follow, get linked to and add any person who sends you an email. You use Pinterest in excess to show how sexy you are (the girls on my pinterest are sexier than me but I’m sure it helps), and how interesting and diverse my pins are (pictures that I select from various sites and other readers and put on shelves to show the things I really like). Don’t forget the email signature and the zillion icons it contains with links to every single online presence I have. It is the mini “about.me” underneath our name and job title – a great example of the bastardization of the self. Why do we do all this?
They say the root of all human craving for fame is the fear of death, or ceasing to exist, so do we use social media to keep our names out there? Even if it is only a virtual presence? I blame the media too, hundreds of ads and media “lectures” on how to look like, and thousands of articles about “best practices” to promote ourselves. Hundreds of “tricks and tips” we get from fellow friends about how we should look in virtual and “actual” world. In parallel, few articles, studies or simple talks about would be related to psychology, philosophy and humanity.
Luckily – and ironically through twitter – I had the chance to read “Facebook’s Dark Side” on Science Daily and my concerns about myself and others started making more sense. It was obvious that “the need for admiration and an exaggerated sense of self-importance” was appealing more and more to me, and while surfing through my accounts, I began noticing all the subconscious “lies” I and others were spreading at the speed of light on the web. I began noticing all the beautiful moments, places visited and hot girls (no offense to the feminists) in my profile pictures, all to perpetuate one image: “I am a big shot”. My Facebook pictures served as a social CV, my sophisticated (though not taking my self seriously) status updates there to show how much of an intellectual I am, and my tweets to make people jealous of how much reading(s) I do.
I was no different than a 16 year old boy in class who picked fights in school, dated the sexiest girl on campus and quarreled with teachers for no reason but [only] to get noticed. I was no different than a lady wearing so many accessories just to hide so much with them, than a guy with a six pack and a new car (that he bought after selling his grandma’s liver) to grab the attention of others – or, as Nasri Atallah once put it: buying things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t know. (The equivalent here is: saying things we don’t need with knowledge we don’t have to impress people we don’t know).
Social media platforms simply served those purposes in a less obvious and cheaper way. Social media owners (Zuckerberg and Co.) play on the ancient trick of “making people feel important” in order to grow – this ancient trick is based on the more ancient truth that people are self-absorbed, also known throughout history as “the ego”,”the id”, “evil”, “sin”, “narcissism” & “greed”. Twitter & Pinterest “followers” are there to make you think you are a big shot and to get recognition (for auto-fellatio); Facebook’s “Timeline” with “Life event” there to keep track of all the success. Are we ready to expose our real selves to the world? Are we even ready to expose our life misfortunes, dislikes and -1 to ourselves? Or have we started believing our own performances?
I transformed from a person who measured his daily achievements by how many new friends he made, to how many Twitter followers he collected. I started counting new websites, apps and plugins instead of how many books and poems I read. When I go to a café, I used to find the place next to where the hottest girl sit and now I look for the available electricity plug (and a hot girl around is always a +1). I used to measure my value to life whenever I applied the proverb “I will sleep less ignorant tonight” vs. “I will sleep more famous tonight”.
Last week I was in a ArabNet digital media summit (and now don’t you go building stereotypes about Arabs), and in the first few hours, the one thing that kept running through my mind was how full of shit we all are, some even more than others. I ran into a friend of mine and told her that the coming generations will live to see the biggest disappointments. In the old days my grandma told me, when someone met a celebrity or an important figure, she/he would be disappointed to see how “human” these people were with all their “flaws and mistakes”. The reason is because we idealize those people then we discover that they are no better than we are. We excuse them because they add value to the world: “opinion making”, scientific achievement, art, etc. And so, we continue admiring them, just think of Marilyn Monroe.
Today’s “pseudo-celebrities” that come out of social media are even more fake. We should distinguish them from the real celebrities that are using the social media for bridging the gap with their audience. Think of how free trade used to guarantee that whoever made money was providing an equivalent of value to people but now, with wall-street and crony capitalism, people can make money without actually providing ANY value. These are our new mini-celebrities that are adding no value to the world. Social Media gives almost everyone equal opportunities to invent themselves/to put themselves out there and the only requirement for success is mastering the tools. All you need are the skills of a good performer, not the craft of a good artist: the performer always shows the good, he makes people dream, the artist is in touch with his pain, he makes people feel the bad as well, h’s more like a Facebook dislike button, he is not a one dimensional version of reality. Many of the so-called opinion figures of today were ones who, having been neglected in social circles, found their refuge and opportunity in the Internet, where they could seek approval and recognition. And many of them those are news aggregates (not really adding any value), cynical performers and hate-speech transmitters. Still disregarding of course, those figures were already known offline – a place also known as the real world.
Everything I said above is for personal reasons: I want to separate Assaad from Beirutiyat, I want to become the self-actualizing me and I refuse to be a consultant of my own brand. My initial assertion that “I am so stupid” remains intact, and therefore, it is possible that I am taking one more shot at showing people how smart I am, how many social media tools I master, how much knowledge I possess and playing a trick on people who “love those who re-invent themselves”. These are questions I will have to answer and maybe since I assume you are reading this online you should consider it too.
We judge those who hide behind veils, real or metaphorical, because they are inhibited, because they do not affirm their existence, because they are cowards. However, who are we, behind the veils of the images we project upon each other, behind the carefully crafted identities we adopt, behind the causes we hide ourselves with? Who are we, stripped of the truly oppressive veils we wrap ourselves with and do we even know how to measure our value, our essence, without them?