In a Guest Colum for Q, Hozier – who follows-up his debut album single From Eden on 26 January – examines the impact of social media, it’s so-called connections and the effect its had on political engagement amongst his generation.
I’ve been thinking recently about the political involvement of my generation, comparative to the involvement of previous generations. At home in Ireland, the visibility of the public’s dissatisfaction is reaching its highest level in years with the introduction of water charges and the revelation that 42 per-cent of the European banking crisis was paid for by Ireland. I often hear my mother’s stories of protest, usually for lesser injustices, and wonder what contributes to increasing apathy.
Anyone close to me will be familiar with my frustrations with certain aspects of social media; the behaviour it encourages and attitudes towards the self it can breed. It’s an uncontroversial fact now that stark narcissism is a perfectly acceptable aspect of our culture, one that is often celebrated outwardly (albeit sometimes tongue in cheek) with self awareness. This culture of the self is nothing new. It’s a logical progression from the 20th century’s innovations in consumerism, targeting not a consumer’s needs with a product to fit that need, but rather targeting their identities (or perhaps the identities they want to be perceived to have), their insecurities and irrational emotions, in an attempt to satisfy the desires that drive us.
Much of social media can be seen as the “News of me”. It’s not so much a platform for connecting and sharing as it is a platform for advertising the idea of yourself you want to portray to others; the image of yourself you want to project. This alone is an alienating experience. Indeed, the reading of other people’s constructed narratives is further alienating, especially when they are not friends in any true sense of the word.
Apart from the feeling of loneliness this creates, my concern is that this is not self-reflection in any meaningful sense. It dumbs down the vocabulary with which a person can express or come to know themselves. It pushes expression into a territory of superficial soundbites. More importantly, self obsession like this can dull the will to engage with community and societal issues. If something is not seen to directly effect the self, it is not an issue.
In my experience, lip service can often be posted about issues on social media, usually expressing how an issue effects somebody personally. There are those also who, driven to the brink of their dissatisfaction, post long, earnest and often well articulated opinions about the current state of affairs online. In my experience, this is met with a combination of eye-rolling and minimal community engagement. Even if issues are discussed in a meaningful way, it does little but satisfy a need to vent, providing an illusion of community agreement.
In either example, the outcome is equal in that they both achieve absolutely nothing. Governments do not care about your Facebook-assembled opinion. Incompetent politicians don’t read your tweets; there are reasons for them being out of touch. Change does not come about for ‘likes’ on a page, though the ideas for it may start there. I do think online forums will continue to be invaluable platforms for the sharing of ideas and questioning hegemony, but no post or comment is as powerful as feet on the street. No Facebook status is as worrying as a vote and no tweet is as noticeable as an angry cry from a crowd outside a government building.
For more head to Hozier.com.