Ever wonder how using social media like Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/SnapChat/etc. is remarkably similar to Foucault’s panopticon model?

Think about it... you, as the user, and everything you do on it can be seen by whoever you choose.... and even if you have all sorts of privacy settings enabled, you still don’t know if anyone really is scanning your posts. Though it’s up to you to decide what to share and how much you use social media... there is no guarantee you can be 100% invisible.

There are lots of good and bad reasons that come with social media use. I’ve been reunited with family members I haven’t talked to in years thanks to social media. Even gotten a couple of jobs through members and ex members from the Jalopnik/Oppositelock community. For many, it’s a fountain of self confidence or reassurance, based on how many likes their selfies/projects/artwork get. And there are those who use it to harass or cyber bully others. Whatever the usecase is, ultimately it’s the choice of the user.

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I thought a bit about this stuff today cause I took my cousin’s kids out for lunch and one of them was playing with my phone. She’s a teenager and went on my Instagram and just liked a bunch of her own pictures. I don’t even use that app much, just something my sisters asked me to join and I rarely post on it. But it’s pretty interesting how you can see what people you grew up with, went to college/grad school/worked with are up to without having to communicate at all to them. You can just lurk all you want without anyone knowing. You never really know who exactly is looking at your online profiles. In a way, the observer becomes the observed and the observed are the observers.

You in real life VS. you online

I talked to a coworker about what people post on social media and she told me she thinks a lot of people she knows do it to “show off.” Selfies, pictures of alcohol/drugs/etc. or whatever concert/sporting event they’re at, meeting famous people, pictures of art (be it their own or at a gallery/museum).

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The way we perceive ourselves online can be drastically different from the way we perceive ourselves in real life. A pretty girl could seem confident, happy go lucky,and a boatload of fun based on what she shares online but in reality who knows what goes on in her head... She could be in an abusive relationship or be going through a tough time... or even still just enjoying life and be happy. In a way, looking back through your social media profiles could provide a Lacanian experience for some, like a series of mirror stages. Ever go back to an old post and wonder “Ugh why would I post that, I’d never do that today!?”

 

This is me in real life, I swear.

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Thus looking through your social media profiles, the number of comments and likes or whatever, can mimic Jacques Lacan’s notion of the mirror stage, which refers to when an infant looks into a mirror for the first time and recognizes himself as an individual... the birth of an ego. In essence, social media profiles are an ongoing series of ego births.

Back to the teenage relative of mine, a few months ago she started high school. I’m 12 years older than her so I told her social media started becoming a thing when I was about her age, if not a little older. Things like texting, MySpace and Facebook quickly became a big thing, especially towards my junior and senior years. Back then I used Facebook mostly for hockey stuff and talking to classmates about homework. (Nowadays, I haven’t posted a thing on there in years).

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I think it’s important to talk to kids and teenagers about using social media smartly and in moderation.

Even though she just sends harmless silly selfies and filtered snapchats to her friends and racks up 100s of likes on her Instagram posts, I talked to her in depth about things that could go wrong with social media... cyber bullying, sexting, obsessing too much over numbers that don’t mean anything, trying to construe those numbers into popularity contests or a way to measure a person’s worth or how many friends they have, etc. I knew a friend who had a sibling that hung themself in *10th* grade due to both school bullying and online bullying. And for teenagers like her who will be applying to colleges in 3 years, they ought to know about the panoptical nature of social media. I trust the kid, she’s smart and sensible and wouldn’t do any of the negative things mentioned. As tough as people in general may like to think they are, a lot of people aren’t as thick skinned as they think they are. There’s nothing wrong with that but people can sometimes take what happens on social media too seriously.

Not her, just an easily found image

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At the end of the day, people seek the satisfaction of recognition, being well liked, or have a sense of belonging. Not everyone has those luxuries but for many, social media provides them just that. Just be aware you never know who’s looking... and who’s looking through a Lacanian gaze.

The crowd, a compact mass, a locus of multiple exchanges, individualities merging together, a collective effect, is abolished and replaced by a collection of separated individualities. From the point of view of the guardian, it is replaced by a multiplicity that can be numbered and supervised; from the point of view of the inmates, by a sequestered and observed solitude