A Socratic Dialogue on Social Media

“Ironic”_Scare_Quotes: Six years into my volatile relationship with Facebook, I still marvel at the indiscretion often exhibited by many of my virtual, if not actual, ‘friends.’ Call me old fashioned, but I remain of the opinion that Facebook is not the appropriate forum for statuses chronicling difficult break-ups or albums documenting the placenta-soaked torment of childbirth.
Instragram_Pics_of_my_Breakfast: For what, then, is Facebook the 'appropriate forum'?  It seems like as good a place as any for updating the virtual world about the progression of your life.
“Ironic”_Scare_Quotes:  'Progression' in only the loosest and most impersonal sense. Facebook is—or at least, should be—a means of presenting a positive and vaguely representative if somewhat detached face to a sea of near-strangers and barely-acquaintances, and you shouldn’t grace their newsfeeds with anything you would feel uncomfortable bearing to the patrons of a crowded and overpriced café carrying expensive carbonated beverages in bourgeois glass bottles, because these are the sort of people who are going to be Judging you, and I don’t use the J word lightly. These people are consummate Judgers, and they think your post-break-up grief is poorly articulated, and that your wrinkly red newborn is less aesthetically savory than an organic sun dried tomato.
Instragram_Pics_of_my_Breakfast: I refuse to believe that most Facebook users have completed the terrible transformation into cynical hipster Zombie Monsters, even if it’s undeniable that many of them are well on their way in that direction. Behind the ironic quips and N+1 links, I detect in these virtual discontents the residual remnants of non-ironic souls.
“Ironic”_Scare_Quotes:  Here’s a question for you. Would you announce to crowds assembled around the ticket window of a Wes Anderson screening that you’ve “lost so much by being selfish yet could've had it all by being selfless” without feeling that you’d somehow deserved the ensuing mob violence and hail of angrily wielded Raisonettes?
Instragram_Pics_of_my_Breakfast: It wouldn’t kill you to be optimistic every once in a while.
“Ironic”_Scare_Quotes:  [Silence]
Instragram_Pics_of_my_Breakfast:  Here’s a novel thought: maybe your so-called ‘friends’ take a genuine interest in the vicissitudes of your life. Maybe they care about your mental and emotional state, at least enough to wonder if you’re engaged, or pregnant, or in the midst of a pre-midlife crisis. At least enough to take a total of five seconds to ‘like’ that you’re having a great day or baking cookies with your grandma.
“Ironic”_Scare_Quotes:  I can't believe you actually buy that shit. Liking some Facebook status about emotional growth and overcoming as a means of expressing 'support' is equivalent to buying a Starbucks coffee and patting yourself on the back for liberating Latin America. You don't get to waltz in, like one status, and pass yourself off as a loyal and engaged friend. Caring is a long-term, sustained attitude that involves a lot of messy and objectively unpleasant exchanges, and 'liking' a status just doesn't qualify.
Instragram_Pics_of_my_Breakfast:  Okay, alright, so Facebook isn't a substitute for face to face interaction. That's not news. But a like could still indicate some basic level of interest and care.
“Ironic”_Scare_Quotes:  "Care," at best.
Instragram_Pics_of_my_Breakfast: Here's an argument that might get through to you, is Facebook really so different from literature? Sure, literature has a time-honored cultural sanction, and Facebook’s very novelty renders it a little suspect to the closet Luddites among us, but I think we read books because we care about people and we want to know what they’re thinking and feeling and where they’ve been and if they’re going to be alright. So why not apply this empathetic logic to, you know, real people?
“Ironic”_Scare_Quotes: Your entire digital narrative smacks of Comic Sans. You’re welcome to your naïve attitude and childish font choices, but you should acknowledge that you’re exposing yourself to a world of ruthless and justified mockery. Facebook is far too fast-paced a medium to yield anything resembling a legitimate contemplation of any one person’s identity. I open Anna Karenina with the expectation that the work and its characters will merit careful consideration, but I open Facebook alongside 15 other—equally engrossing— tabs. I’m willing to give your “about me” and interests no more than a cursory glance before coming to an initial conclusion about your general worth, and if any part of your profile contains the Bob Marley quote about how everyone is going to hurt you or the clichéd Kerouac quote about the mad ones that’s printed on just about every inspirational coffee mug, tee shirt, and poster in the history of desperate hipsters, it’s already too late for you.
Instragram_Pics_of_my_Breakfast: Don't you think that's a little judgmental?
“Ironic”_Scare_Quotes: That’s the nature of the beast. Facebook is necessarily reductive, and your attempts to endow it with some measure of complexity or nuance are bound to fail. It’s no good pretending that anyone is willing to give your ‘calculatedly designed to make you appear introspective’ profile picture more than a glance before writing it off as ‘calculatedly designed to make you appear introspective.’
Instragram_Pics_of_my_Breakfast: Well, it's not like that's a problem with Facebook per se. If that's your complaint, you should be campaigning for online earnestness, not dismissing anyone who gestures in that direction.
“Ironic”_Scare_Quotes: But the problem isn't localized to a certain set of particularly jaded website-perusers—it's more a function of the glaringly obvious fact that we deliberately design our online presences so as to convey a certain impression to our imagined ‘audience’, and we’re fully aware that the digital community is evaluating our every move with an eye towards certain social conventions. There is just no way that the resulting representations could ever be entirely truthful.
Instragram_Pics_of_my_Breakfast: How is that different from any kind of social interaction in any kind of public setting…ever? It’s not like we’re unaware that we’re going to be encountering people when we get dressed in certain sorts of clothing or apply certain sorts of make-up or loudly profess our undying love for New Order or Animal Collective at feminist pep rallies. You’re in the worst kind of denial if you try to claim that ostentatiously reading Being and Time on prominently placed park benches is any less of a ploy to attract the right attention from the right kind of people.
“Ironic”_Scare_Quotes:  I mean, I genuinely like Heidegger…
Instragram_Pics_of_my_Breakfast: Right, exactly! Presumably, you do it, or listen to it, or whatever to it, because you like it. And, presumably, you seek other people who also like it precisely because you like it. Which proves that it’s entirely possible for a person to do something both because they are sincerely interested in it and because they want to project that they’re interested in it.
“Ironic”_Scare_Quotes: But it’s also possible for a person to do something solely because they’d like to appear to be the kind of person who would do that particular something. It’s only natural to wonder whether your resident Proust enthusiast really made it through all those volumes and all those stilted descriptions of the French social elite, because it seems statically probable, although far from certain, that any purported A la Recherche du Temps Perdu fanatic is actually just an avid reader of the Wikipedia canon.  And there’s no question that technologies like Facebook and Instagram make it that much easier to tap into an identity you haven’t really earned. With Instagram, it’s all about an imagined past, a history you haven’t lived that you can nonetheless automatically affix to your experiences in order to lend them an air of legitimacy. And with Facebook, you can add a film you’ve never seen or a book you’ve never read to your profile and thereby instantaneously gain access to the otherwise time-consuming process of watching or reading. Live interpersonal interactions require some measure of conversational skill and thus some measure of actual knowledge.
Instragram_Pics_of_my_Breakfast: This is an argument that the landed and monied elite have levied against the lower classes for centuries. This is why there was outcry over the widespread dissemination of reproductions of paintings and recordings of operas—because formerly you’d have to have the resources to attend the operas or get to fancy European museums. Facebook is a modern equalizer, and you’re just mad that you’re losing your monopoly on experience.
“Ironic”_Scare_Quotes: Because championing authenticity is the same thing as limiting authenticity to the upper classes. Right, “okay.”
Instragram_Pics_of_my_Breakfast: Whatever.