Today was exam day, or rather, placement test day.
Placement tests always seem to include essays, and today was no exception. I was worried I’d stall on this simple task, as I’ve been struggling a bit with literary inspiration of late. Thankfully the local college cited a Mr. Samuel Clemens for topic matter, and asked me to take a side on whether or not I believed people exhibited herd mentality or conformism. Great, I thought, actually not sarcastic for once, here’s something I can actually get behind.
I was once returning home from a day trip to Sydney, BC, when I passed the billboard for a local used-car dealership. “Sometimes when following the masses, the ‘M’ is silent,” it declared, suggesting that conformism in certain cases equals idiocy. As I continued on my journey, an agreeable smirk began to play on my lips as I contemplated the sentiment; in an era of endless global unrest, normalized self-promotion, and social media, nothing could be truer.
Dipping my toe into the sea of retweets and text-based plugs for “weird tricks” I was horrified to see how a platform originally intended for witty quips had devolved into a copycat’s meat-market for no-budget shills
Regardless of your political affiliations, you only have to look at the recent US election for (just the most recent) proof of how unsettled society is. As the world experiences growing pains, painfully bursting at the seams as it tries to stand taller, some might be able to find comforting denial in the safe-haven of a small town lacking Internet and newsprint, but the opposite is true for the majority. Reality is always there, inescapable from our view, permeating our line of sight whether it be stories on Buzzfeed, journals on a newsstand, or as is common in Victoria, graffiti furthering a political topic or catchphrase. My view is that we’re constantly being asked to choose from these precast and prefab recollections, whether we agree with them or conversely, whether we’ll simply use the subject as fodder for our next denigrating tweet. Either way, someone else has already beaten you to the punch and made their choice, rendering the entire process of valiantly picking a side inherently unoriginal.
Invoking Twitter in an argument about conformism and originality is humorously ironic, and that’s kind of the point. I had avoided the social networking site for a few years now, feeling that I had nothing unique to say, my opinion changing only recently as I started a blog and finally had a brand I cared about enough to champion. Dipping my toe into the sea of retweets and text-based plugs for “weird tricks” (to shrink everything from fat rolls to social anxiety) I was horrified to see how a platform originally intended for witty quips had devolved into a copycat’s meat-market for no-budget shills. Need further proof? I’m practically one of them myself now (although at least I write my own content).
But wait, it gets worse. What Twitter does well for brands being sold, Facebook does better for personalities being inhabited. In a world where social agreement and likability has been reincarnated in the form of a pixellated thumbs-up, grown adults are vying for this form of confirmation like Boy and Girl Scouts competing for badges of honor and accomplishment. No longer is it acceptable to just volunteer at the local soup kitchen in order to drop proof of your piety at the next social gathering with your peers; now we have livefeeds, shared posts, carbon-offsets, hell, even reskinned profile pictures to prove to your social construct who’s a good boy, cash-in on those endorphins of getting recognized as one of the others. Again, join the lineup; you’re only rehashing what’s already come before you.
I understand that on a planet of 7 billion, where public reactions can be equally hazardous either by being too unified or too dissimilar, being unique can be a frightening and difficult proposition
As I returned home, having churned over enough thoughts about the quote on the billboard that I had source materials for a short
essay opinion piece, I came to a conclusion. It’s inherent (and not wrong) that we want to feel we’re doing the right thing, it’s habitual to want to run alongside the like minded; I’m no different, and to say otherwise would be monumentally egotistical. My beef is that no longer do we try to be different in our machinations to these effects.
While issues get legitimately more complicated in our lives, be it foreign policy in the Middle East or gender pluralism, to name a few things that rightly deserve their many layers, the value and importance of these is consistently being undermined by the rampant oversimplification of how we’re expected to react. Because, you know, by the tenth image, I WAS IN TEARS (and so should you be). That’s to say nothing of the 97% who won’t copy and paste this statement (NOT SHARE, GODDAMNIT), because, well, you know the guilt-trip routine. Yeah, I’m being sarcastic again.
I understand that on a planet of 7 billion, where cellular network coverage is sometimes more complete than freshwater access, and where public reactions can be equally hazardous either by being too unified or too dissimilar, being unique can be a frightening and difficult proposition. But do at least try. When you’re about to repost that clickbait mutation of an actual issue, hesitate. Do your job, be objective, and at least make the effort to relay the message in your own words. Which means: read the damn article first.
In the words of someone we can’t credit (because the quote has been basically paraphrased into anonymous oblivion) “Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like every one else.”