Years ago, in an age before timelines and newsfeeds, the only way to ensure that everybody you were even vaguely acquainted with knew the most intimate details of your existence was through a Christmas round robin that probably went straight in the bin. Nowadays everyone from your mum to next door’s newborn seems to have at least two social networking accounts; the minutiae of everyday life can be shared 24/7, and thanks to Facebook’s psychotically difficult deletion system, is almost impossible to lose. Whether it’s through Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr or Vine, we are now able to put the most interesting parts of ourselves out there anytime, anyplace – and more importantly, we expect people to respond. Welcome to selfie culture; the internet is no longer to share information, but to gain attention.
Whether we like to admit it or not, social media sites have gone from being a way to keep in touch to a way to gain recognition and approval for who we are. Websites that allow you to constantly upload photos you just took, make statuses about thoughts you just had and update your location every time you move a few inches to the right have given birth to a special kind of bulletproof narcissism. There has become a kind of shame attached to a post with no notes, a status with no likes, or a tweet with no favourites. They are the virtual cousins of jokes that nobody laughed at – conspicuous in their lack of attention, showing you up as try-hard and unfunny. We can recognise that what we are doing is unnecessarily self-indulgent and deliberately gives off a far more interesting and successful persona than we truly have, but since everybody is doing it, it’s somehow not only permissible, but actively encouraged. Oversharing has become somewhat like social smoking: you do sort know it’s bad for you, but it’s somehow sanctioned by the presence of others. Why quit when no one else is?
The problem with this compulsive need to fill the whole world in on what we’re up to at all times is that it translates absolutely terribly over into real life. While conversation could once be kept flowing with tales of daring adventure and fascinating experiences, the prominence of social media in most social circles means that unless you’re talking to complete strangers, the internet has already shared everything for you. Everybody already knows about the time you almost met Stephen Fry, and since that was really your only good ice-breaker, you’ve suddenly proved yourself to be a very dull, one-trick-pony kind of person. Unfortunately for your social status, that’s the kind of story people are willing to feign interest in no more than once, and they heard it two days ago on Tumblr. Friends who just got back from exotic holidays across the world have nothing new to tell you because they spent half of every afternoon they were away frantically uploading and detagging photos of their drunken escapades so that everyone at home could see what a wild and crazy time they were having. Finally meeting that seemingly funny and attractive girl you internet-stalked more than you’d care to admit suddenly seems much less exciting once you’ve ascertained in the harsh light of 3D reality that her friends are very flattering photographers and that she wasn’t retweeting Harry Styles ironically. In the same way that video killed the radio star, social media killed social interaction.
Having the best parts of you splayed across six different e-platforms has many benefits, but the downfalls cannot be ignored. Thanks to editing software, spellcheck, Google and no time restrictions, you can simply never be as good-looking, intelligent, witty or as sharp in real life as you are across the internet. In our attempts to be the most interesting person on someone else’s friend list, we run the dual risk of both hearing the same stories over and over again, through several different mediums, and appearing ourselves to be one-dimensional and boring, with nothing more to us than is already displayed on blogs and in photo albums. Knowing an uncomfortable amount about someone just from their internet presence leaves you with the choice of either awkwardly playing dumb and asking them about things whilst desperately trying not to trip up and betray your off-putting level of familiarity with their life, or to take the safer and less taxing option of staying silent. Too much exposure to each other’s lives has left us with the equally unappealing options of seeming potentially creepy and overbearing or straight-up rude and disinterested. In a world where people communicate wall-to-wall and talk @ each other as opposed to with each other, the only way to come across as a nice, normal, well-adjusted and interesting person is to stay well away from the outside world and its pitfalls and keep the charisma coming from your keyboard alone.