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Being a firm practitioner of the Socratic dialectic, I always enjoy when a new perspective on a long held view manifests itself because it allows me the opportunity to update my epistemology. This is an essential tool for the philosopher, but it is also a method of inquiry that benefits all who possess a love for knowledge. A current example of this rubric from my own experience occurred this past week when I came to a new understanding of the YouTube and reality TV phenomena. If you are not already aware of it, now is the perfect time for you to realize that the youth of today are engendering our species into a new and unknown existential realm. So please allow me the opportunity to share with you some ideations on this new technological development of which you might not be readily cognizant of.
I can distinctly recall my first impressions of YouTube back in 2005 (after reading this essay, please refer yourself to a more recent critique of Mark Zuckerberg entitled The Hubris of Facebook for another angle to this inquiry). At that time, it began to appear that there was a alteration manifesting within the existential landscape which was being facilitated by this new breed of website. A distinct requisite to my ethical epistemology is in the notion that there are no innate moral absolutes to any material advent. So the new behaviors and mentalities of the young in regards to this new technology caused me no worry, but instead piqued in me a socio and anthropological interest. This new obsession with an online identity, ipso facto reality, has fully inculcated itself within the zeitgeist of the youth of today. The entire spectrum of social interaction amongst generation Y is steadily moving into cyberspace. A teenager’s conception of reality is more often than not filtered through an immaterial notion of existence, whether it is on a social network or through the posting of videos of themselves and/or their friends on YouTube.
There have been myriad studies of this new sociological behaviorism over the past ten years with an interesting documentary on the subject appearing on PBS’s Frontline in 2008 entitled, Growing up Online. You can find that program here. The focus of the documentary is more on the socio-political ramifications of this new existential reality where I am more interested in the philosophical implications of this new adolescent axiom. Kids now seem to be convinced that their lives are somehow more real in the cyber-world than in the material world in which they actually reside. I find this extremely intriguing as well as viewing it as just another vindication of my own existential views on self-actualization. There is a boy in the documentary who explicitly states that his need for being online as often as possible is due to the fact that there now is no other way for him to communicate in absentia with his friends except via cyberspace as kids now spend more time socializing through a technological construct than in the flesh. A prime example of this is found in the way in which kids today communicate via the phone with the nearly complete usage of texting instead of their voice. As for the boy in the documentary, in his youthful callowness he does not realize what a non sequitur and contradiction this view is, yet I feel that this assertion perfectly encapsulates the new existential imperative and logic of the youth of today. And at the very least it is this idea which informs on their view of daily life and the means with which to approach it.
I stated in the beginning that I found a new twist to this contention and it resides in between YouTube and the phenomena of “reality” TV. For myself, I use YouTube to find videos of lectures, interviews, symposiums, etc and not for any ridiculous or puerile entertainment content. I realize that I am a minority in this respect but what else could I or you expect being members of the cultural optimacy. But if you casually peruse the self generated content of YouTube it becomes rather apparent that this website has become devoted to solipsism and anthropocentric adulation. At all times anyone can post their own benighted opines and arguments (in video or text form, ala commenting) as well as flaunt the banality of their own existence while receiving recognition if not vindication for their behavior. Now I do not mean to needlessly underline my previous thought, but I continue to truly be amazed at the sheer volume of breath taking ignorance flagrantly on display within the comments left on this website. If there is anything that makes my bowels churn as much as theism it would have to be people who feel that they can legitimately use opinion rhetorically; one can encounter this proclivity all over this website. This reality more than anything is why I feel that this website should change its name to MeTube, as it placates the lowest level of human vanity and further entices people to media putanism—the new psychological pathology of our age. It also illustrates that within our society mere and pathetic populism is now conflated and confused with democracy. After all, why wouldn’t any one person’s life be worth putting on display for the entire world to gawk at? Are we not all voyeurs and exhibitionists in the cyber world? This is an incredibly worrying change in the culture along with being a depressing spectacle to witness.
This behavior is further evinced by “reality” TV programming which contains the same incessant parading of solipsists and ludibrious exhibitionists all of whom seem to have a need for attention that can not and will not be sated. This is truly an abysmal cultural moment which only seems to get incessant approbation from our society; as the producers of these shows will gladly tell you, just look at the ratings. I am well aware of my own fastidious nature and I am not putting forth any critical contention beyond rebuffing the promulgation of stupidity and cultural lowlife. The only aspect of this new social phenomena that is worrisome to any degree is in the close similarity of this cultural vicissitude to the religious mentality. The idea that you are axiomatically special or unique to such a degree as to deserve mass attention or that you are the object of a divine plan both appease the same fatal human flaw. Anthropocentric beseechment of this kind is never emotionally or mentally healthy and should be enervated as far as is humanly possible. We as a society will have to come up with a panacea for this condition sooner or later, so why not now? It should be apparent to anyone and not just to a cynic like myself, that the huge corporations who run these cultural and social redounds are not interested in helping to solve the problems that they induce (profitability always trumps social responsibility), so it is entirely up to us as a society to take responsibility for any malign effect that this new existentialism creates. Just imagine, what will it mean when there is no longer anyone left who can sustain a face to face conversation, let alone an intelligent one?