During a TED Talk a few years ago, anthropologist Amber Case declared that we have already become cyborgs. The reason for this is that technology has permeated a great deal of the psychological and social boundaries dividing humans from machines. Even though our laptops, tablets, smart phones, and other devices haven’t become an integral part of our physical makeup, these forms of every day technological have been extension of our psychological selves.
We use smart phones to keep track of important meetings and direct us to the nearest Thai restaurant. Instagram sorts, stores, and filters our memories so we don’t have to. Facebook keeps track of our friends and family.
Without even meaning to, I find myself uploading little pieces of my consciousness onto the Internet, a place that simultaneously does and does not exist. My consciousness, the statuses, photos, and “shared” articles, have become a second self, another me that interacts with the second selves of other Facebook users.
And in the time that I’ve been using Facebook and other forms of social media, I’ve noticed that my second self and the second selves of my friends are much bolder via Wi-Fi.
Unlike the self that exists in real time, my Facebook-self can exert a measure of control over her social life. Even if you’re friends with her, Facebook Gyasi can “hide” you, cloister you away, and choose whether or not she wants to interact with your thoughts, views, and opinions.
I would never think to tell a person “I find you offensive, and I no longer want to be associated with you,” but my Facebook-self can do so with impunity.
You think all Muslims are terrorists? Unfriend.
You believe that all lives matter? Unfriend.
You support Donald Trump for president? And not ironically? Unfriend.
You believe we live in a post racial society? Unfriend.
You like your women like you like your coffee….nope, I’m not even finishing that one: Unfriend.
Whenever anything polemic occurs, Facebook me finds it necessary to conduct a Facebook purge. This means that Facebook Gyasi scrolls through her newsfeed unfriending people like she’s early 2000s Oprah on giveaway day: You get unfriended! You get unfriended! Everybody gets unfriended!
And you can do the same to her. If her thoughts, views, and opinions are at variance with yours, you can shut her out of your Facebook world and never see her again.
She supports #BlackLivesMatter? Unfriend.
She supports a Democrat for president? Unfriend.
Why is she always so focused on race? Unfriend.
Oh gosh, I didn’t realize she was a Christian. I thought she was better than that. Unfriend.
How can a Christian even talk about feminism? Unfriend.
What is it about the Internet that makes us so bold and fragile? Why do I feel inclined to “hide” people that challenge me?
I could continue to claim that Facebook Gyasi is a separate entity, an artificial intelligence thriving in the social network ether, but that claim is entirely without merit. As recent events have taught us, the things we do in the non-place of the Internet can have very real consequences for our every day lives.
“Facebook feuds” or “flame wars” have destroyed relationships. Revenge porn websites, trolling, and cyberbullying have hurt more people than we can tally. Consequently, I’m led to conclude that the emboldened thoughts, opinions, and views that we spread via Wi-Fi can affect our relationships. I also wonder how much of my digital “unfriending” and “hiding” mentally may be permeating the boundaries of Facebook.
The words that I’ve stated on Facebook or some other social media site are being read, viewed, liked, disliked, shared, or ignored by people in a place that simultaneously does and does not exist. As a writer, a person in love with language, and as a Christian, a person in love with Christ, I’ve started to realize that my cyber-self is perhaps doing more harm than good.
Perhaps now it is necessary to break down the boundaries we have erected to keep our cyber-selves on the internet. Perhaps now it is necessary to remember that people exists behind the screen. Therefore, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29).
Gyasi S. Byng lives in Rochester, New York. She is PhD student at the University of Rochester where she teaches a writing course on robotics and human identity. She received her MA from Florida Atlantic University and her BA from Palm Beach Atlantic University. Her recent publications include “I Have Never Been Strong” in Open Minds Quarterly, “In the Waiting Line” in Apogee: Reclaiming the Margins, and “Beige Girl Problems” in Rivet: The Journal of Writing That Risks.
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