Facebook… turning life from play to display

Many of the readings we’ve done so far in our PoliSci class have been about the definition of play. Recently, blogger kellyv posted a very interesting article Social Media As Play drawing parallels between the idea of play and the activity of engaging in social media. While Eric Dunning explores Stone’s argument in his book Sport Histories: Figurational Studies of the Development of Modern Sports  that play has been turned into “display”, implying that it is oriented towards the satisfaction of the spectator. And so goes the existence of our cyber-identity: we have become obsessed with “pleasing the crowd” over enjoying the game of life, one move at a time. Our lives have become a continuous strive to display a version of ourselves that conform to the expectations of our spectators.

Many of the readings we’ve done so far in our PoliSci class have been about the definition of play. Recently, blogger kellyv posted a very interesting article Social Media As Play drawing parallels between the idea of play and the activity of engaging in social media. Eric Dunning, sociologist and pioneer in the sociology of sport, explores Stone’s argument in his book Sport Histories: Figurational Studies of the Development of Modern Sports (you can download a copy of the book by pressing the hyperlink) that play has been turned into “display”, implying that it is oriented towards the satisfaction of the spectator. “The interests of the [spectator] take precedence over the interests of the [player]. Enjoyment from playing becomes subordinate to the production of crowd-pleasing moves.” And so goes the existence of our cyber-identity: we have become obsessed with “pleasing the crowd” over enjoying the game of life, one move at a time. Our lives have become a continuous strive to display a version of ourselves that conform to the expectations of our spectators.

In his classic book  Homo Ludens , Johan Huizinga declares that the existence of a spectator in a sport diminishes the meaning of play as an intrinsic activity. As play is intrinsic, done for its own sake more than for some reward outside of the activity itself, it is unquantifable. Just as he defines play as unquantifiable so are our lives; yes, everyone can measure the level of success they have had in their lives according to self-imposed goals and standards they have envisioned for themselves, such as having a specific job, getting married, traveling to a certain number of countries. But, we lose the autonomy over our lives when we allow other people and their opinions to quantify the quality of our lives.

I do agree with Kellyv’s statement that in many aspects social media is indeed a form of play; It meets two of three of Huizinga’s characteristics of play. Social media gives us a sense of disinterestedness, which refers to it providing an interlude in our daily lives, in addition to having an extraordinary quality, letting us step out of “real life” and into a land of make-believe. The other is its limitedness, which Huizinga defines as being limited to a specific space (the internet) and time (posting a status, posting pictures, commenting on a “friend’s” post of a video). This leaves one last characteristic left: freedom.

I disagree that social media is “…the absolute epitome of freedom” as kellyv states. Freedom, as Huizinga implies, is the ability to do something for the simple fact of enjoying it. It has intrinsic value, which is the worth of an activity or an object which lies in itself. Facebook and other forms of social media are not about you and your interests, it is, instead, a continual attempt at appearing someone we are not. We have abdicated that freedom into the hands of our “friends.”

And, so, our lives have lost their intrinsic value; we have allowed for the approval of other people or the act of someone pressing the “like” button to replace savoring and being present in simple, day-to-day life.

And included in the definition of this disinterestedness is the awareness that it is in fact “make-believe”. One of the key components in not being able to classify social media as play is that we have lost, or maybe never truly distinguished between the real world and the cyberworld. My generation came of age right when Facebook was becoming popular. One’s teenage years are complicated, confusing and challenging. With the incorporation of social media, specifically Facebook, all of our experiences were increasingly scrutinized, by others and by ourselves. Consequently, our idea of what we were supposed to be like as a person now relied on carefully chosen images and carefully worded statuses.

And the big adrenaline rush, and sometimes even the occasional ego trip, stem from the approval of people that we don’t really value as important in our lives. In the article  “Wired and Success” , Wood and Forest found that nearly half of Facebook friends are actually strangers or acquaintances, not close friends. We have created a logical fallacy in our minds that if the number of like is higher than a certain number (usually depends on the person and what they think is a good number) we are somehow more popular, more fulfilled, and overall better people.

We need to become less involved with people “liking” our pictures and more focused on liking ourselves.

what if the number of Facebook likes I get isn't a direct indication of my worth as a human being? - what if the number of Facebook likes I get isn't a direct indication of my worth as a human being?  conspiracy keanu

Keanu Reeves is just as confused as we are

4 thoughts on “Facebook… turning life from play to display

  1. I agree that social media is NOT the “epitome of freedom” – with our generation, it seems that our lives are encapsulated by a metaphorical steel case made up of iPhone 6 Pluses, MacBooks, and Androids.
    This idea of pleasing the crowd definitely pervades the discourse around social media and technology. Many of us are pressured to download the latest app whether it be Yik Yak or Tinder. Granted, it’s hard to deny the gratification and psychological reward that comes with getting over 50 Likes on Facebook within a couple of hours of posting a status or photo but that just goes to show how dependent some of us are.
    One of my professors likes to say: “your generation is more invested in talking to people who aren’t around you rather than the people right in front of you”.
    Don’t get me wrong, social media can be extremely useful: after asking a couple of my friends to share a registration link from my Facebook page, I helped a close friend of mine get sufficient numbers of students enrolled in his study group. Previous to my efforts, his meager number of 3 students probably would have led him to drop his position for the semester.
    It’s easy to disregard the cast aside the nagging of our parents/grandparents so it’s up to us (as peers) to educate each other. Educate others to dissociate a narcotic feeling of self-worth to Likes, Favorites, and Followers; educate ourselves to limit screen time in both recreation and academics; eventually educate the upcoming generations to learn from our mistakes.

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  2. I appreciate your take on my initial article. I believe your adaption of Huizinga’s theory to social media is most certainly original, but it also leaves me with questions: If social media meets 2/3 characteristics for “play” are you still considering it play? I know you disagree with my statement that social media is the “epitome of freedom.” I definitely think my opinions have change once I shifted my attention to my own current thoughts: I stress over likes just as much, if not more, than any other person. But if social media is bound by time, disinterested, and imaginary, what is it? Is it all a game? A game over the number of likes? Are there any other theories that can explain its place in today’s society. Again, I appreciate your addition to this discussion.

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  3. While intrinsically related to the act of “facebooking”, I do not find “likes” and therefore any method of childish self-evaluation to be the reason anyone uses social media. Rather, in the essence of Gloriela’s theory, it is our utilization of our ability to interact with others on an equal plane, free to discuss and share a we please, to play, that draws us to internet social platforms. Kellyv likewise raises some interesting questions: If social media is not the “epitome of freedom” in modern times as she states, is it at least the most pure form of play left available to us. In a time when other forms of play are tainted by spectators and fans who are detrimental to the “self” fulfillment Huizinga requires for play to be play, does social media fill the void? In this light, do we use social media to share our personal ideas and values in a disinterested way which is available to spectators, but not inherent to their participation? I believe that receiving cyber-praise from others is merely a positive result of a deeper act that one engages in online. The true draw-factor is the ability to share with others, communicate en masse, and be ourself in a way which removes face-value from our ideas, yet also offers a means of fulfillment inherent to debate and philosophy.

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  4. While I do agree that part of the draw of social media is seeking acceptance from our friends and peers, I don’t think that’s the only reason we do it. Personally, I think social media does exemplify freedom. Most of the posts I make aren’t to get other people to like me or my ideas more, it’s because I want to show something I think is interesting to people I don’t necessarily see every day. Everyone has different reasons for using social media, which is why I think classifying it as play or not play is completely subjective.

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