Originally published as “The Sosyal Network” in the Manila Bulletin, October 26, 2011
I recently shut down my Facebook account. This is partly for pragmatic reasons: doing so has saved me a lot more time for work and leisure reading. It is partly for security reasons: like most people, I live with an exaggerated sense of self-importance, and am in constant fear of creepy strangers looking at my bikini photos.
I do not regret it. Getting rid of my Facebook account has liberated me from the bondage of constantly keeping up with my peers. I no longer know where everyone else is going and with whom and what they are doing there, and I no longer feel bad or uncool about not being there too. It has also saved me the trouble of trying to find good photos of myself to post, and evaluating my self-worth on the number of likes or comments that it gets, with extra credit if the comment or like is from a really good-looking guy.
I still have friends, still go out and have fun, and occasionally still meet good-looking guys, but I no longer make any public announcements of my activities after the fact. For the most part, life has been made much simpler.
I feel like I have become more myself.
One of my smart friends told me that the lightness I am experiencing is due to the fact that I’ve given up keeping up with our image-obsessed culture—this world we live in that is so saturated in external gestures, performance, branding.
Each gesture has a corresponding label: using an eco-bag makes you an environmentalist, quoting philosophers makes you an intellectual, having 3000 friends on Facebook makes you popular, and wearing a Louis Vuitton purse makes you sosyal (Is there an English equivalent that properly captures the essence of the word?)—even if it means, as the old saying goes, spending money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need, to please people we don’t even like.
We take all these externals, post them on the internet, and build our identity upon it—when in reality, they are all just projections, speaking volumes about what we do (or try very hard to seem like we do), but little about who we are.
People used to keep photo albums with actual printed photographs, and they would store them and have them accumulate dust and then dust them off and look at them with fresh eyes, because back then it was about the photos, not about the comments people made about them. The value was in the substance of the photos, not in the branding that they provided.
Not so now. The idea of intrinsic value is lost on us; the idea of being is alien to us. We have been reduced to statement shirts and popular (or even indie) music, to Friday nights out in the right places with the right people. And when there are no statement shirts to wear, no popular music to listen to or say bad things about, no clubs and cool company to be with on the weekends, we are nothing. We have no identity apart from the image of ourselves that we project.
Ours is an impoverished generation that cannot deal with silence or solitude. We do not find value in having photographs and nobody to show them to. We cannot operate without knowing that we are being watched; we affirm our value only insofar as we get attention from an audience. We are incapable of sitting with our naked selves and being comfortable in our own skin.
We are always striving, always projecting, always putting on another layer of externals, always trying to seem smarter or cooler or richer, that at the end of it all, we end up empty, and lost and lonely.