I came across an article in The Guardian: some researchers have found that the modern child is sadder and lonelier than children brought up before social media.
The image registered as correct, but why? My thoughts turned to the area of theatre studies called performance theory. A German sociologist, Ervin Goffman, in a book called The Performance of Self in Everyday Life, put forward the idea that social life can be examined from a theatrical perspective. We are all playing roles, with entrances and exits, settings and costumes, with scripts and so on. This idea was generalised into performance theory, that life is a series of performances. While the idea obviously suits consideration of the famous and celebrated, historical figures can be examined from within this framework, as can ordinary people.
The problem with the field is that it quickly becomes tautologous: if everything is a performance then everything is a performance…but there is no doubt that social media increases the level of, and universalises the performance. Via the media, we can be constantly performing ourselves. In the old days, one might be interviewed on radio or television every now and then, but now that can be as constant as the facebook post or the twitter feed.
I remain reluctant to immerse myself overly much in performance theory, because I find performance sacred. I respect the long rehearsal period followed by the liturgy of the public performance. Then it’s done and one returns to normal life with the feeling that one has accomplished something, even though it has now disappeared. That brief moment contains anxiety, energy, focus, requires trust in one’s fellow performers and at the same time one is essentially alone. And there is the communion with the audience or witness. This solitude yet togetherness has been called communitas, and is seen as the basis for community.
But if performance , via social media, becomes 24/7 and banal – ‘Here I am in my new pyjamas’, then the anxiety and aloneness of performance become dominant. If the events that can inform our lives, whether it be birth, love, illness, death, are immediately photographed and posted, colonised in a way, rather than met with awe, the hopelessness of addiction creeps in. And we know how untrustworthy the social media audience can be.
This, for me, is why kids are feeling sad and lonely.