Zandt blames digital culture’s focus on purity for blowing up the scale at which how we present ourselves in public differs from how we actually feel. “All of this is leading us down this dangerous path of alienation. And not just from each other, but from our own selves. We’re walking down a technological thrust into collective depressive dissonance.” Instead of building tools for “silly human mammals” who are “easily trained by positive reinforcement,” she argues, technologists should embrace the messiness of human life and put it into the core of the products they build. She doesn’t purport to know what this would look like, but her demand is clear: Digital culture should allow for that space between authenticity, connection, and vulnerability — in other words, intimacy.
Professor Heuser thought for a moment. “That’s only indirectly related to social media,” she finally said. “People suffering from depression are incredibly creative at convincing themselves they are losers. But we live in a world that’s hyper-communicative — not really communicative, but narcissistic. Everybody is always ‘sharing’ something, only that it isn’t really sharing, it’s posting something to a wall in the hope that as many people as possible will come past and ‘like’ it. The purpose is to feed our narcissism. It is a many-voiced monologue, a cacophony. Everybody is posting something, but we aren’t talking to each other.”