Jan 19, 2013

How Information Flow or Data Streams Make Us Feel Social

Watching an old soccer game from World Cup 1986 at a Spanish bar while enjoying some sangria few days ago, I felt a sense of emptiness and boredom, bordering loneliness though I wasn't alone.  Not because soccer was much slower, less competitive and less corporatized or the quality of the broadcast very poor in 1986, rather it was lack of distraction within the screen itself.  There were no tickers, no stats, no score boards, information streams or news updates on screen, just the game.  No noise, just signal. In addition the crowd / fans were farther away from the field compared to modern games where fans are constantly in the view of the camera as if they are indeed part of the game.    

 So what happened? Why did I feel this way? Was it an unconscious chemical imbalance or nostalgia for my childhood? Obviously, it is beneficial to have relevant information such as the scores displayed at all times on the screen but why would its absence cause a sense of boredom and emptiness? 

I Swim in Information, Therefor I am Social
Perhaps watching a soccer game is more about being part of a social club or a social event than it is about the game itself just like perhaps going to restaurants is more about being in a social environment than it is about enjoying the food (foodies might disagree).  This analogy can also apply to religions (church as a social club, spirituality being a secondary goal), work (especially meetings), gyms (social first, fitness second), fitness clubs (everyone can work out at home with YouTube as the instructor), etc.  That said, it's evident that all the information we are bombarded with on the screen while watching a sports game,  gives us a sense of involvement, social closeness and control as if we are part of the game ourselves.  The absence of it feels almost lonely and alienating.  How fascinating, that we perceive constant information flow or streaming data as social involvement or closeness.  This is how social media sites function: on the surface they generate and communicate content / information but on a personal level they give the illusion of connectedness and social closeness.  Here I argue that most if not all modern human actions are motivated by a nostalgic insecurity and longing for the ancient tribes and closeness that our ancestors thrived in for thousands of years.  It also follows that envy in today's society is merely a confused feeling of nostalgia for a sense of community and equality with Others.   

Close But Not Too Close: Decaffeinated Social or Friendship on Diet
The fascinating and completely ridicules irony here is that though we posses this nostalgia for social connections, we all create an invisible distance or barriers between us and the 'Other'.  We set up virtual walls or secretaries to connect to other people's walls and secretaries.  We surround ourselves by these invisible walls of cell phones, email, social media profiles, Outlook calendars and blogs where people can go and refer to, to connect.  And at the time of our choosing we will connect back, but not to them directly, but rather to their symbolic / representative self.  These invisible walls are present even when we do have direct in-person contact as if our mental PR and advertising departments, driven by our ego put on a show to hide our insecurities, vulnerabilities and weaknesses at all cost.  The problem is, the more these insecurities are covered, disguised and protected the stronger their hold becomes on us.  Hence, we become afraid of direct exposure to the Other with our guard down (PR facade) because we might find something out that instead of feeding our ego, exposes and intensifies our insecurities (A friend became really successful or married a very attractive person). 

Ego Must Be Fed
Here the problem is not insecurities but the 'ego'.  It's our ego that makes a boogyman out of our insecurities and creates this prison we call the self.  We spend all of our lives trying to free ourselves from the 'ego' by attempting to satisfy it, massage it and give it what it wants (status symbols, titles, wealth, popular friends, cool experiences to brag about, cool social media presence, etc) so it can go away and stop bothering us but the more we feed it the bigger it gets and the more it wants.  It goes without saying that often people feel relieved of the ego when they become parents (partly why being a parent is good) and have kids, hence, shifting the focus to their kids instead of the self.  The ego still exists for parents it's just now includes their kids as part of the ego boundary.  

Why the ego is so powerful you may ask? Humans have always had egos especially power hungry men but what has made the 'ego' much more dominate and paranoid in today's society is our capitalism enabled  consumerist culture which can only function by promoting individualism and self-satisfaction through consumption (I've blogged about this previously: The Price of Consumption Based Happiness).

In conclusion we come upon an infinite loop: 
  1. Individualistic/Consumerist Culture
  2. Self-love / Ego 
  3. Hide Insecurities through Fake facades/Showing off (Self PR/Advertising)
  4. Pushes Others Away
  5. Alienation / No Meaningful Human Connections/Friendships 
  6. Desperate Temporary remedies (join temp/online social clubs)
  7. Paranoia / Social and Status Anxiety
  8. Fear / Lack of Trust
  9. Back to Step 2
EgoSystem to EcoSystem
The loop repeats and we become more alienated from others, trapped in a delusional, self-centered and egoistic state anxiously hoping for our tweets to be retweeted or Facebook statuses to be 'Liked'.  This alienating loop unfortunately is less a product of the self than of big society and it can not be corrected by the self alone but rather a societal culture change is needed.  A change that evolves us back to a more communal thinking and mindset instead of the consumerist / individualistic one that society has made us pursue.  An evolution back from EgoSystem to EcoSystem.  


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