Social media sites on the Web seem to be all about customizing themselves around your unique individuality. They advertise, essentially, as perfect bespoke cyber-garments, wrapping their shimmering page designs around your wondrous self – a way to promote your every like and dislike, your taste in music, your food/exercise/religious/artistic lifestyle. What is being sold is, of course, a feeling of empowerment, of you – that special individual you – as the very center of the Universe, the ultimate culmination of three billion long years of evolution, the end result of our very galaxy’s majestic spiral formation, of eons of chemical, biological and cultural development, all gradually building toward an inexorable crescendo, a majestic symphony of meaning, of cosmic purpose, of blindingly beautiful symmetry.
Toward this ultimate purpose, countless lesser creatures needed to die their merciless deaths along the way, mere links in an unthinkingly cruel food chain, in a brutal Darwinian war for survival, sacrificed so that the the fittest could pass on their genetic code, could transmit this sublime message to the future, gasping nobly with their last breath like the doomed soldier going to his happy death at Marathon, all for one glorious purpose.
So that you, cyber-citizen, could go on Facebook and proclaim your unique and beautiful self.
But what if all of this is backwards? What if the true purpose of the Web is not to glorify your perfection, not to allow you to go through your day with the self-satisfied smirk of one who has posted the exactly right picture of your cat batting amusingly at the vacuum cleaner?
What if the true purpose of the Web is to make you question things, to put aside childish thoughts?
What if the true purpose of the Web is to force you to become your better self?
Imagine if the Web were like, say, books. Go to your nearest bookstore and you will see shelves lined with tomes that explain, often in alarming detail, how to be your better self – how to lose weight, get richer, make more friends, land a more attractive job/guy/gal/house/pet. Printed media seem to possess a fierce devotion to finding out what is wrong with you, analysing it, breaking it down into its component sordid pieces, then taking you through a twelve-step program, or an encounter group, or a thirty day exercise plan that will change your life. Printed media doesn’t like you the way you are, not one little bit. It wants to make you better – it wants to fix you so that you are good enough for it.
The Web, on the other hand, wants to take you out for a beer and coddle you all night, tell you over pizza that you were right all the time, that she was never good enough for you anyway, that the stupid job you just lost was beneath you in every possible way, and good riddance.
The Web wants to tell you that you actually look better since you stopped dieting and put on all those extra pounds.
But what if the Web were like books. What if it stopped coddling you and starting putting up pages that made you examine your life, pull it all together, and strive to discover the best version of yourself.
Would that be a good thing?