Oscar Wilde was that rare genius who could turn the familiar into epiphany and lace tragedy with irony. His reinterpretation of the fable of Narcissus, the handsome youth who spent his life by the side of a lake gazing at his own reflection and ignoring the seductive appeal of pulchritudinous nymphs, is a masterpiece of simplicity that elaborates his deep understanding of the human ego. In Wilde’s retelling, the lamenting nymphs gather around Narcissus’s body and are baffled that the lake is weeping.
“Why do you cry, you who had him by your side all his life while he wouldn’t even heed our pleas?” they ask. The lake replies, “Fools, do you think I’m mourning because I loved him? No, it’s because I love myself. As long as he was lying on my bank looking at me, I could see myself reflected in his eyes. Now, I no longer can.” Had Wilde lived today, he would be the undisputed star of the social media. For few understood the ego of the unheard more than he did.
Social media is the defining mirror of today’s society. Any social researcher would be intrigued why so many people find themselves fascinating, and assume their lives are interesting to friends and strangers. Their serial autobiographies are public; how the sliders tasted like sawdust at the new bistro, where they buy designer jeans at bargain basement prices and how they plan to meet up with the Chopras and the Nairs in Sweden in summer—part info and part ego. Posts tell stories: posing before the Parthenon, iPhone photos of sushi and sambar, collages of drooling babies and infirm parents; all celebrating ordinary lives in colour and joy.
With such confessional excess, the outrage on social media over Facebook allowing marketing agencies to access consumer data is plain hypocrisy. Sure, you can’t yell at or befriend anyone you want unless accepted and your posts cannot be seen by all unless you agree, but it is sanctimoniously absurd to cry invasion of privacy.
The fact is there is no privacy any more. Data mining is the new normal for research. And no, Facebook does not sell members’ data, which may include personal information like your phone’s memory, laptop’s password, and Twitter and Instagram posts. But the ethical line between privacy and publicity is thin. What Facebook does is sell access to the News Feed of members to companies, who pay for ads targeted at specific users. This business gets Facebook massive advertising revenue; in 2017 they made $40 billion.
Immortality is no longer an exclusive club for gods and heroes. All you need is a cellphone and a hashtag. If you’re willing to take that road.com, then don’t be a phoney and huff that your privacy has been invaded by the big bad corporate wolves. Your rampant ego is enjoying a free run, logged in as freelance wisdom. In the age of digital marketing, where gratuitous advice makes gurus and YouTube could make you rich, Hallelujah, it’s raining Narcissuses! The mega pixels of your reflection in the great lake of the worldwide web form the universal palette.
You’re nobody unless you’re on LinkedIn, Tinder and Snapchat. And even data could be fantasy. Create avatars with Photoshop, express feelings with emoticons and be a savant with a chat room. Selling yourself to the universe is the basic purpose of social media. In the brave new world, networking is religion and God is just a selfie.