“With social media, the compelling opportunities for self-expression outstrip the supply of things we have to confidently say about ourselves,” writes Rob Horning. “The demand for self-expression overwhelms what we might dredge up from ‘inside.’”
My trigger finger is itching to give that a +1.
The struggle with the limits of what’s “inside” — the struggle with the limits of personality — has long been the source of the best art. We tend to characterize art as “self-expression,” but that’s really more a description of bad art. The immature artist, as Eliot wrote, is constantly giving in to the urge to vent what’s inside, whereas the mature artist seeks to escape that urge.
The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality. … The bad poet is usually unconscious where he ought to be conscious, and conscious where he ought to be unconscious. Both errors tend to make him “personal.” Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.
Social media turns us all into bad poets.
Implicit in Eliot’s argument is, I think, the idea that the self is forever overreaching. Personality wants to expand to fill all available space. Resisting the self’s inclination to artificially inflate what’s inside, and thereby overwhelm what’s inside, has always been hard, but it becomes much harder when the available space for the self is made both explicit and infinite, as happens with social media and other documentary systems of self-expression.
The Dolls, prophetic as always:
Forget information overload. Ours is a time of identity overload. From personality there is no escape. Or, if there is an escape, it lies in deliberately treating the social network as a canvas or a blank page. Eliot again:
The point of view which I am struggling to attack is perhaps related to the metaphysical theory of the substantial unity of the soul: for my meaning is, that the poet has, not a “personality” to express, but a particular medium, which is only a medium and not a personality, in which impressions and experiences combine in peculiar and unexpected ways. Impressions and experiences which are important for the man may take no place in the poetry, and those which become important in the poetry may play quite a negligible part in the man, the personality.
But is it possible to treat Facebook as “only a medium and not a personality”? And if you managed to do so, would you have any friends?
Image: Ted Silveira.