Social Media: The Organization of Self

Photo by Kevin Van Lierop


This reflective mini-essay is about the psychology of social media.
First, the preamble:
Before discussing social media we must pose a question: What, exactly, is an organization, business or institution?
Fundamentally, these things are comprised of people — groups of people — organized together in a (more or less) cohesiveness of purpose(s), such as financial, ideological, personal, etc.
Whether its the production of widgets or rallying for an altruistic cause, organizations are simply people organized together.
However, organizations themselves are markedly different than people. They have logos, letterheads, “corporate images,” boards of directors, hierarchical levels of bureaucracy, time tables, and sometimes even water coolers.
An organization is made up of people; but the organization itself is not a person.
It is another thing entirely. Indeed, thousands of people work in the McDonald’s corporation, but McDonald’s is not a person. It is an organization.
Second, the morphing of identities:
Social networking, such as Facebook, puts us “in touch” with each other, but it does so by making us (as human individuals) become more like mini-organizations which exist unto ourselves.
We have a logo (an avatar, or personal “identity” image); we structure our lives, interests and hobbies like a corporate flowchart; we offer mini press releases to each other when we have something to announce. Social media inherently makes us think and organize ourselves as if “being me” is virtually a business venture.
To engage in social media is to congenitally think of yourself in the third person perspective, because the only “self” there is in this digital world is the one you market to others. There’s nothing here but an electronic image you create and the representations you associate with it.
When people try to “become” organizations some very predictable things happen: they start placing their wholesale value on their market share: how many friends or followers they have, who’s listening to them, and who endorses their carefully calculated “identity package.” This is not a subconscious reality in our world, “personal branding” is a popular term in social media.
Soon it becomes hard to separate the “person” from the “product” — they become genetically integrated: the individual has been atomized into the subcategories and characteristics of its own self-marketed “organization.”
Third, the great infiltration:
Who stands to benefit, monetize, and profit from this phenomenon?
When people begin to think like organizations, it is organizations who find themselves perfectly postured to exploit them.
Your online identity, initially, is not actually you, it is only about you. Ergo this electronic portfolio is simply a list of descriptive appendages that characterize (or caricature) your genuine physical and biological being. The result? Your online identity is a list of definitions, products and interests: in the digital world, this is the “self” that you present as a “friend” to others.
In essence: social media turns you into a virtual commercial for whatever it is that you Like, which is whatever you add to the repertoire of your digital identity. But now it is not “just digital” anymore: you are an human being — who potentially (subconsciously) thinks of yourself as an organization — now “friends” with a corporation.
Let’s remember: organizations are not people, they are just made up of people. You cannot actually “be friends” with an organization unless you are technically one yourself.
Taken further, other “people” in the social media world do not actually “befriend” you as a person in this digital arena, but they can only befriend that which your avatar/profile represents. No matter what your interests, social media instantaneously turns you into a promotional pawn of that cause (or product, lifestyle, brand, etc).
Here’s the bottom line:
The great illusion of social media is that “organizations” can now interact (and “network”) with consumers and supporters like human individuals. This is not the case. Instead, it is actually the other way around: human individuals are beginning to interact with everything as if they themselves are organizations; descriptive, third-party entities that are calculated, defined and abstracted from the actual “self” at the centre).
Thus the infiltration: the organizations we made are making us, and they are not only selling us products, but they are also giving us a way of thinking and living that is far more ingrained in us than we probably realize.

Who made who, who made you?
If you made them and they made you
Who picked up the bill, who?
And who made who?
(Who Made Who, AC/DC)

We made organizational structure; and organizations have taught us how to think. Who made who? That is always the question humanity must ask of every tool we use.

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