The Search for Idenity in a Technological World

“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” -Albert Einstein

One decade-10 years; the time needed to significantly alter human lives. The world we once lived in was distinguishably different from the world we live in today. Take a look at the invention of the Internet. From the ability to send digital mail (Email) to Google information in a millisecond; the Internet is revolutionary. Not only does the Internet impact the political, economic and social aspects in our lives, it has virtually connected the seven continents together. The technology we once sought as a tool to enhance our lives has become a part of our daily lives. Not only are we incredibly dependent on technology in the 21st century, more importantly, it is essential to our lives. It is sadly to say that without it, we are inapt to survive in this monstrous technological driven economy.

Despite the rapid growth of technologies in the 21st century, one critic was able to connect the institution of technology with his writings. Richard E. Miller, a brilliant writer, laid out collection of short stories that challenged the purpose of writting. Through these short stories, Miller provides multiple cases on the effects of institutions that intervene with our lifestyle. Miller suggests that these institutions describe how we live and why we choose to live in a particular way. Similar to Miller’s discussion on the impacts of technological institutions in his novel, Writing At the End of the World, the effects of social media promotes a false sense of identity by creating a false perspective of reality.

The social media plays a key role in setting standards and expected norms for the individual in society. Multimillion dollar corporation such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram have become immensely influential that it governs the idealize lifestyle for many, specially the adolescence. George Herbert Mead, a famous sociologist once wrote,

“The individual experiences himself, as such, not directly, but only indirectly, from the particular standpoints of other individual members of the same social group, or from the generalized standpoint of the social group as a whole to which he belongs”

In other words, the self is the product of society. The self is a reflection of society and its existing conformity. This internal pressure to conform in accordance to society has left many to break away from the high demands of society, to find and develop ones own image of self.

One key figure that Miller discusses in a chapter titled Following The Word is Chris McCandless, a college student dropout who set forth into the Alaskan wilderness to free himself from the immutable standards and structures of society.

Tragically yet predictably, McCandless’ death was inevitable given the conditions and the limited amount of resources he had. However Miller’s was not interested in McCandless’ death, he was far more infatuated with the question, why? Why did McCandless choose to explore the untamed? What propelled and ignited a courageous motivation to push forward in a journey that was evidently foolish in the eyes of others? Miller suggests a plausible explanation that answers the question why. Miller promotes this idea of a conflict that existed between “youthful idealism and a brutal, unforgiving reality”(428). This concept of “idealism” that Miller describes in the text hints that McCandless was in his own fantasy, influenced by another significant institution. Miller proposes the institution of books, especially in the fields of poetry, as one causes that has shifted McCandless’ perspective of the nature into an idealized one:

“…one could say that McCandless was killed off by a reading practice that placed too much faith in books, a practice that forgets that the world in all its infinite complexity and particularity will always exceed the explanatory grasp of any single text and, indeed, of all texts taken in their totality” (431).

McCandless was indulged in the poetry, such that he coincided the sublime aesthetics described by Jack London as his expected reality. “Because McCandless wanted to believe in the world London invented, because Mccandless wanted to be enchanted...” (430) he had place himself into a false world to believe that London was able set his mind free from the pressures of society.

The enchantment that McCandlesss once felt while reading London’s works can be applicable to most individuals like myself. Today Facebook, Twitter, and many other giants of social media play a significant role in shaping our idealized life. For an example Instagram, a photo-based app, gives us a glimpse of the perfect life of our adored friends, family members, celebrities, and even animals in which at times we wish we have had. Thus, by human nature, we envy and strive to meet the criteria that governs that acceptable life based on the amount of likes given by other members of society. By doing so, we have created a reality in which we believe will give us the best opportunity to reach the ideal life. We mimic and emulate the role of which we think is acceptable or successful in society and, in the midst, lose ours. The image of the self is changed and manipulated to match the outside influences, to belong. Often at times, we fail to realize the imperfect realities of those we admire on social media- the gaps and scenes that we do not see and fail to see beyond the pictures or statuses. In other words, the appearance we see and hear through social media does not fully nor accurately represent the realities we have come idealize.

Technology does not only exist in forms of social media, but it also includes all other forms of distractions that may change our perspective of reality. Video games, television, computers, cell-phones, and even cars are different branches under the institution of technology.

In another chapter of Miller’s writing titled The Dark Night of the Soul, the author provides a horrific case about the affects of video games on young-adult males. These “video-game enthusiasts” (420) displayed acts of aggression and violence that ultimately lead to many deaths at the Columbine High School shooting. Perhaps, video games are not the only factors that contribute to this fatal tragedy. Other factors that Miller believes that influenced Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold actions were the fact that “they were outsiders… members of the Trench Coat Mafia, neo-Nazis…” (420)- the list goes on. Although there is not one definitive cause that sparked violence in the minds of Harris and Klebold, one could argue that video games have altered the realities of Harris and Klebold. The fact that Miller listed video games as a possible outside influence suggest the video games could have had a great impact on the two high students. Perhaps Harris and Klebold, these two outsiders inapt of the physical world, were successful in their virtual world. Thus, to recreate the same false feeling of success or even acceptance like they could have felt in video games, Harris and Klebold decided to turn their, what Miller calls, “fantasy factory” into their reality. (422)

The impact of technology evidently has an influence on individual. In Harris and Klebold’s case, their realities, perhaps, lies in the video game world. Unable to distinguish their realties from their fantasy factories, Harris and Klebold lived in a false reality in which they took on unrealistic roles. Their identities were lost. They no longer knew what real; they only knew what felt real to them.

Despite all the negative ways social media could potentially separate humanity, one Twitter user and author demonstrates how to use social media postitively to bring a sense of awareness and self-connection across the globe. Teju Cole has surpassed ten thousand “tweets” that entails short stories and captivating photographs on the topics of Immigration and Jerusalem life. One could argue that Cole has succeeded in what Miller suggests is the purpose of writing as “the felt experience of the impersonal” by “…nurturing both a sense of self and a sense of connection between self and society” (442). Miller promotes that in the process of writing, one should attempt to form a connection from him or herself to larger institutions. By doing so, Miller believes we can show “all internalized institutional influences”, meaning the impacts these institutions have on our lives.

How does this relate to Teju Cole and technological advances? Miller?

Twitter, a form of technological advancement, allows its users to directly comment and share tweets amongst each other. In addition, one can follow another user and automatically view their most recent tweet. By using Twitter as tool for social interaction, Cole is not only able to connect himself with others -allowing others to engage themselves with his ideas- but also to connect himself to larger instituions that exist beyond the United States.

Cole’s collection of photographs displaying hardships of the Jerusalem life titled Occupied, is a prime example how he brings awareness to himself and around the world. One photo titled “Old City, Jerusalem” shows a young adult male curiously inspecting a hand-gun. The image displays a juxtaposition of purity and warfare. The photo of an inexperienced young-adult interacting with something that resembles the ideals of aggression, suggests that the boy will ultimately step into the role of violence and destruction. Perhaps, Cole promotes that young males in that country are not much different from the male the image. Due to social, economic, and political conflicts, a future of violence and turmoil is inevitable for the adolescence in Jerusalem.

Teju Cole is someone whom others, including myself, should emulate because he has an identify. He identiy is real, not a “fantasy factory” but the genuine and visible. Cole’s deep concerns for humanity and passion towards the underrepresented or minorities elicits his identity in society. Cole is unaffected by the influences of social media that has tempted a great number of humanity. Therefore, Cole’s reality is real. Cole does not use social media to infatuate himself in the idealized life of others nor insanely play endless video games at the brink of mass murder. Instead, he uses social media to enhance and inform the lives around him. In doing so, Cole allows others to see the true realities of the world and open their eyes to the horrors of poverty.

Although technology seems to ease the daily life through out the 21st century, the main concern lies in the search for humanity in the mist of all these technological advancements. What was once sought to enhance our lives has been integrated into our lives-specifically social media that frequently alternates and crafts a false perspective of ones reality. The example in Columbine shooting demonstrates the different forms of social influence, such as video games, that can easily manipulate ones perspective of reality. McCandless’ case provides us the insight how vulnerable and gullible we are in believing the existance of the “perfect” life that is evidently imaginative. How an individusal chooses to use social media is the most significant question to ask. Instead of fueling our endless imagination, social media has shown that one can use it to create a sense of reality for others. Unlike Harris or McCandless, Cole chooses to use social media as a tool to magnify the lives of other needy individuals around the globe and connect himself with other individuals to bring a better perspective of the realities into our world.

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