I don’t believe that today’s most popular sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace, can be considered “social” media in the proper sense of that term. As I examine and observe the activities of people within these environments I recognize that there’s more a quality of egoism than socialization. People come to Facebook not to interact, but to redefine themselves and express that new definition of self within a controlled environment. The same goes for Twitter, MySpace, and other so-called social media environments.
There is no possible way for the true “self” to exist online. And, besides, why would we want to re-project ourselves into an artificial realm with all our flaws and blemishes? What we instead project into these environments is an idealized version of ourselves.
This stream of thought lead me to examine “psychoanalytic self psychology,” a school of thought developed by Heinz Kohut, MD (1913-1981). Drawing on Freud’s work, but rejecting much of it, Kohut focused on one’s need for empathy to reconcile with developmental issues that resulted from an individual’s relationship to his or her parents in early childhood. The adult product is a collection of “selfobjects” that we each generate and depend on to support our own sense of self, and to provide ready access to a form of empathy.
To my mind, there is no better self0bject than a “social” media site. We each construct a favourable environment online that is conducive to maximum empathy, and feed that need through artificial communication: me reject or block those people who do not provide empathy, embrace and engage those that do. These sites are a constant display of our egos logically satisfying our hungry ids as public selfobjects. (I realize I’m mixing my psychoanalytical theories there, but WTF.)
That’s why there is such a disparity between the sites in terms of what age groups they tend to attract. Different age groups would have been brought up in different fashion and been provided different levels and forms of empathy from parents. Each “social” media site provides empathetic feedback in a fashion conducive to the needs of these age groups.
So I wouldn’t call Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and their ilk “social” media sites, so much as I’d call them “selfobject” media sites. They are not about how we engage others, or even how we exist in society. They are about how we optimize empathetic feedback via a conduit of optimized self-recognition.