My Facebook profile picture is a black and white image of a friend and I drinking champagne from five years ago, which doesn’t say much about me other than the fact I sometimes drink champagne, do have friends, and don’t update my Facebook very much. But have you ever noticed that beside your little profile picture on Facebook there are the words, ‘What’s on your mind?’ Of course you have. You respond to these words every time you share your opinion or an article or anything in between. But have you really taken those words in, and processed not just what they mean for you, but for the world we live in? What’s on your mind? Your mind. As we exist in the era of the self, we can largely thank the architecture of the internet for its rise. I have been thinking about this issue for a while, but it was crystallized while reading Jia Tolentino’s debut book, Trick Mirror, a collection of essays positioned around self-delusion. In the essay, The I in the Internet, she wrote that the internet has become “the central organ of contemporary life”, which is now problematic because it distends our sense of identity and encourages us to overvalue our opinions as well as three other concerning problems I will avoid bringing up here and further ruining your day. (Uplifting is on its way, I swear.)
“On social media platforms, everything we see corresponds to our conscious choices and algorithmically guided preferences, and all news and culture and interpersonal interaction are filtered through the home base of the profile,” Tolentino, a staff writer for The New Yorker writes. “The everyday madness perpetuated by the internet is the madness of this architecture, which positions personal identity as the centre of the universe. It’s as if we’ve been placed on a lookout that oversees the entire world and given a pair of binoculars that makes everything look like our own reflection.” It reminds me a little of being 21, when everything that happens to you feels like it’s never happened to anyone else when it has usually happened to everyone else. And as we now run our days as permanent 21-year-olds (without the benefits of flawless skin and fast metabolisms) circumnavigated around our heightened sense of self, it appears a neglected virtue is having a much-needed comeback. And it could, in fact, become an antidote to our self-centred lives. Humility is back with a vengeance. Welcome. We’ve missed you.
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