“Did you see Kylie Jenner’s latest instagram?”
We humans are inarguably more interconnected now than at any previous time in human history. We are in constant, instantaneous contact with one another – and not just with the people we know “in real life,” but with our favorite (and least favorite) celebs, public figures, and even random strangers whose sole claim to fame is their social media presence.
Louis XIV used to allow people to come watch him eat, sleep, even go to the bathroom. I remember learning that in elementary school (long before the social media age) and being shocked (and giggling about the bathroom part).
My friends, we have gone farther. So, so much farther.
We are a culture of voyeurism.
A culture where one person’s outfit is bigger news than a suicide bombing.
We peer into people’s lives – we follow them, truly, following them around as much as they let us.
We want to know.
I think we all understand that this habit is not the healthiest. It breeds false intimacy, perhaps even to the exclusion of true intimacy with those who are actually around us. It can set a standard of experience (“my life will never be that cool”) that’s often manufactured, an illusion that will sow discontent in our own hearts. It gives us self-centered goals – to have this person’s life, to have that person’s instagram. To be so socially “loved.” Everyone has a “chance” to be famous and admired, and I am someone who “deserves” it.
But in all of this voyeurism, all this jealousy, all this discontent –
there is one kernel of beauty.
People care about other people.
Okay, so, anybody who’s ever read the comment section of anything on the internet knows how nasty humans can be to one another. How uncaring, how cruel. So when I say “people care about other people,” I want to clarify: I mean that people want to know.
They want to see.
They want to understand
and be understood.
The blog Humans of New York is probably the best most shining example of the heights to which social media voyeurism can rise. An opportunity to find compassion and solidarity. An opportunity to see someone else’s life – sometimes a life very different from your own – presented with personal vulnerability, even authenticity.
Does this mean every person featured on HONY is 100% telling the truth? Not necessarily. But I think most of the time people are telling their truth. And we love it – we love seeing the world through their eyes.
“Us vs Them” is such a prevalent, ugly attitude right now. Us vs the other candidate, Us vs immigrants, Us vs government, Us vs the other religion. And some people are so broken, so depraved that when they meet “them” face to face their ugliness only increases.
But in my experience, when you actually know “them”, they’re not a “them” anymore.
They’re a person, just like you. With highs and lows and griefs and joys, choices they’ve made, things that have happened to them.
That’s the redemption of social media. It has the opportunity to vanquish the concept of “Them.”
Does it always take that opportunity? Overwhelmingly, probably not.
But at least it shows that we have that desire, innately, to know and understand other people’s lives.
And that, I think, is beautiful.