2016….The year we blamed ‘a year’ for our existential angst.

2016 the year that was …. Pretty normal to be honest. It’s just social media that convinced us otherwise. There have been some strange occurrences happening online that mirror real life, however, the platform is larger, wider and resembles a lymphocyte which is encompassing many social media sheep. Let me explain what I mean…

This year, like any other, the world kept on turning, seasons followed in their natural order and days of the week, hours, minutes and seconds continued their disciplined routines. Babies were born and people died. I feel like maybe I should burst into song with “The circle of life”, however, I’ll spare you that. (You wouldn’t be able to hear me anyway as this is text but through the magic of psychology, you now probably have an earworm)

Back to the matter in hand, I was talking about the fact people have died and some of these people happened to be celebrities or well known to the public. What has been different about this fact in 2016 has been the emergence of a phenomenon akin to when Princess Diana died and the nations response to that. There has been a “social media mourning process”. RIP Tweets have trended, people have changed their profile pictures to match flags of nations where a large number of people were killed, Facebook has an “I’m safe..” feature (which is entirely brilliant considering Facebook’s signal can survive the features that Mother Nature/bombings and many other large scale issues could wipe out) and people have rushed to post and highlight their passion, connection or hatred of said celeb or groups. (Yes, even I joined in on this with Carrie Fisher #SWPrincess. I have abstained from others and just watched). Newspapers or should I say SocmedPapers have printed articles and posts about these celebs when they previously berated or shamed them and people have used this to focus their grief/mourning process on. In short Social Media has increased the awareness of death. Now I don’t mean that we were previously blind to this fact, I mean that this is possibly becoming an existential knowing and awareness. This can unsettle people as most of the time we are busy pushing this thought out of our minds. This existential angst is what Irving Yalom describes as a feeling that we try to ignore and turn away from. Yet it is an inevitable part of life that stirs up in us a move towards connection to alleviate the loneliness that death encompasses.

I wondered if this was what I had been watching on social media and I would like to propose the following: Social Media has been the bread and butter of virtual interactions between people for a number of years now. This is not new information. However, I have noticed that people have become wise (thanks to many blogs and research) that people tend to promote their ‘ideal’ or ‘false’ self in this public domain, hence interactions and relationships don’t feel as real, perhaps even forced. I have watched Twitter/Instagram cliques emerge and Facebook groups increase in both numbers and types. I have watched competing ‘status’ about success stories and I have watched the brown nosers and bullshitters hail and (what seems to be falsely) commend others. I see hypocritical posts where the feel is very much about ‘my success (on social media) is about self-promotion by trashing someone else” I have seen many psychological games that match real life and many of those proposed by Berne (Transactional Analysis Theorist).

I have noticed that para-social relationships, (and those where people have never met real life), in/on social media feel less real and connected, yet the behaviours that I see are no different to those in real life and ones that my clients in therapy struggle with. Are people trying to connect more through social media and is this causing a disconnect? I think so in a roundabout way. I think that people are feeling isolated, lonely, alone, ignored, false, rejected, disconnected and the increased use of social media is intensifying these feelings, albeit on an unconscious level and out of our awareness. We are attempting to connect in a way that is unsatisfactory, not meeting our needs and without the ‘real’ness that comes with knowing people directly. We don’t really know anyone via social media and it probably taps into that childhood feeling of wanting to meet/know our celebrity idols….would they have been how you imagined? Would anyone if you took their Social media profile. Are we all trying to be that little bit celeb?

We are all doing our best in a virtual world. It’s only time (and good research) that will retrospectively give us the answers.

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