LIAM CULLINS

The Keyhole Effect: A Digital Distillation

It’s been said by many that those who spend a lot of their time on social media end up lacking essential real-life social skills. Shorter attention spans have also been attributed to the web due to the abundance of potential distractions, but what if I told you that socialization in the real world can sometimes be the more distracting environment?

Now, I’m not saying that we should all become lifeless, introverted robots whenever we’re out in public, but a conversation I had with a friend last night got me thinking. We were discussing what exactly someone could get away with on social media sites (specifically Instagram) based on the implications of this image I’ve seen circulating around Facebook. While the image itself got a good laugh out of us, we started to considering a more disturbing side of what the internet would tolerate—many people may not care about racy images if the person in question was attractive enough.

We also considered the viral effect, which I’m sure most of the people are aware of, and realized how easy it is for something to explode in popularity nowadays. Because of this, many people looking to gain a following (myself included) unrealistically think that attracting a lot of buzz is easy, and certain cases, it is. But what sorts of things become viral? That’s the sad truth my friend and I realized in our discussion—many people let their eyes determine what they enjoy instead of their minds. Dwelling on something significant takes effort and time, but people in our fast-paced society generally prefer the quick laughs, quick reads, and quick tips.

Now, what’s this “keyhole effect” that the title’s talking about? Well, take a second to really think about what social media is compared to everyday life. Whether you realize it or not, every time you see a stranger, you make some sort of observation and assumption about them. If they’re elderly, you assume that they have grandchildren. If they’re overweight, you may think that they don’t care enough to take better care of themselves. If they’re gruff and have dirty, worn clothing, you may assume that they work a hard labor job, or are a grease monkey. I’m not trying to paint these observations in either light, but I am saying that you make them all the time, and whenever you’re in public, strangers make them about you, too.

A social media profile is something entirely different, something that you have complete control over. You can include as much or as little information about yourself as you like. Your profile picture can be a photo of yourself, 0r a picture of essentially anything—a celebrity, a pet, a cartoon character. For anyone who plays a lot of online games, you know that a lot of the time, you only have a voice to go off of, if even that. Sometimes a person is represented by nothing but a stream of text you receive when messaging them. This is what I mean by a keyhole effect—a distillation of who a person is, free from assumptions and opinions made based on physical appearance, mannerisms, attire, and the like. Yes, sometimes these can be misleading (it’s practically second nature to suspect anyone online of being a predator), but I think it’s also a unique and powerful side effect of our technological world that most people don’t seem to acknowledge. I’ve made many friends online due to this effect, because if you’re sincere, the lack of other input and distractions has a way of carving you down to your truest form.

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