The Gaze of the Abyss

My rule is simple: Never talk politics or religion on social media.

I have no opinions about the 2016 U.S. presidential election that I wish to share, or any public stance to take on the TMT on Mauna Kea, or even a thought worth publishing on gun control and the recent spate of school shootings across the nation.

On the other hand, I could probably write a thousand words on the nuances of morality in Mass Effect, or why Daredevil‘s Kingpin is the single best-written villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. In fact, I do talk about those things — what movies I’ve seen lately, what games I’m playing, how my fantasy football team is doing — in great detail and to great extent.

It’s not like I don’t have opinions about all of those other things (certainly I at least know whom I will vote for next year), I just somehow don’t feel right sharing them. Yes, it’s partly a tactful job security choice (I’ve written on this before, if you want to sift through, but it’s also simply an inherent, murky reluctance to share of myself.

On social media, there are two types of people: the oversharers and the lurkers. They form a spectrum, and we all fall somewhere between those two extremes, like a Kinsey scale of social media. The oversharer posts every thought that passes through his or her head on everything, sans filters; shares every meme; responds to and likes everything. The lurker says nothing at all, ever, and may as well be dead.

There’s another way to look at it, though: Some people share everything about themselves, bravely lay themselves open like a book to be perused by the public; others wrap themselves in a cocoon of isolated silence, inscrutable.

A lot of people believe that others are “fake” on social media, like the couple that posts too many selfies to mask the fights they’ve been having lately, or the girl who posts beach bikini shots every day of the week. We put up an image of how we would like to be perceived. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Certainly people might be able to draw conclusions about me, knowing that I love the fallen sidekicks (Winter Soldier and Nightwing) most, or that I prefer Lannisters to Starks, or that Narnia never quite had the magic that Middle-earth has for me. It forms, if not a picture, at least an outline of a person named Paige, a shape to which characteristics can be ascribed, with some effort.

But having opinions about things that, well, matter — knowing whether people support Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump, or whether they would advocate for Native Hawaiian independence, or whether they think guns ought to be banned — somehow, that says more about me than I wish for most people to know.

We all want people to know us to different extents; we want to be identified, seen. But there is no such thing as a “real” self to know, no fundamental truth buried beneath the webs we weave. There are only different versions of us that we share in different contexts. We are no more or less real with our friends than we are our families, no more genuine in the bedroom than on Facebook.

And that fact might be the scariest thing of all about social media. It’s like that Nietzsche quote, “When you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”