The Latin words cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) were made famous by French philosopher René Descartes in the 17th century. The proposition is fundamental to Western philosophy. Essentially, Descartes was trying to tell us: "We cannot doubt our existence while we doubt".
We think, therefore we exist.
Recently, a friend of mine completely radicalised this fundamental for me. He told me he was in the throes of a social media existential crisis. Quote friend: "I post, therefore I am; I delete, therefore I am not. I re-post, therefore I am again".
Hence the title of this piece, premo ergo sum. Yes, I'm appropriating Descartes' famous words and giving them a 21st century spin: I click, therefore I am.
If Descartes were alive in the 21st century he might have asked: "Do we exist at all if we don't exist on social media?"
I click, therefore I am. I post, therefore I am. I don't post or click, therefore I am not.
It's an existential crisis which has afflicted even the most astute and aware punter on social media. Who would we be if social media wasn't around to validate our existence?
Fact. People like to document their lives. This has been evident for all time, pre-pre-pre social media, back in the day when cave men were scratching semblances of themselves on cave walls and burying bones in the ground.
From diaries through to time capsules and paintings, we have been documenting our lives since the beginning of time. Not only do we like to reflect, but we are also afflicted, on a daily basis, by the omnipotent notion that our lives are fleeting.
We are nothing but shadows and dust, so who will remember us once we're gone? And how will they remember us if we leave nothing behind? Our stories and images are first-hand accounts of how we lived and loved and did a few things in between.
Here, please read my story! Here, remember that I was here!
Much Eastern thought and spirituality would tell us that this is a result of our ego, the id. Since birth, we've developed a whole persona around us, equipped with descriptive titles and adjectives. We could be gregarious and cheeky, or sad and taciturn, we could be many things and many people, armed and fortified by our possessions.
But the fact is, we are. Lisa (in this case) is Lisa. Defined and described since the crib. Hinduism and Buddhism would say that's simply my ego, and that I need to part ways with that ego, so I can avoid the endless circle of life and death (samsara).
But who wants to do that, right? "No fun" I hear you cry. Exactly.
We've had our egos and our way of documenting our lives (so at the very least someone would remember us) for thousands of years. But in the late '90s, we also had the birth of social media. The first fledgling steps of what was to become a juggernaut. Light and tenuous they were, only to quickly get to the proportions of a baby elephant's prints and, finally, a woolly mammoth's. Social media was born, and it filled that void like nothing else. That cogito ergo sum void. That 'I think, therefore I am... But am I really?' space.
Suddenly, social media announced that we most definitely exist, right there on our computer screen, and later on our mobile device. Right there was our very profile, our personal brand. There were photos of us, comments by us, which we had carefully curated to construct the image of who we truly wanted to be to the outside world. We could be funny, glamorous, geeky, smart, ingenious, brave... whatever.
'Product Lisa' was out in the public domain. Premo ergo sum. I click, therefore I am.
But, many years later, after the inception of our public, social media profile, we can't help but fall down Alice's rabbit hole into the matrix of a digital existential crisis. We ask ourselves: "What really came first? Our digital brand or ourselves? And who are we, really?"
Are we the online persona we've created, or the other human being who hangs about in their home wearing pyjamas and scouring their social media presence to see how many likes and comments they've received?
How many of us post a comment or picture and then become racked with a paroxysm of paranoia? Does that really suit my public profile? Is that really who I am? Will everyone in my social network now hate me as a result of that post?
You know it sounds familiar. It has happened to all of us before.
And then we delete that offending post before sweat begins to break out on our palms and rapid heartbeat sets in. We sigh, having avoided a calamity. The complete and utter destruction of our social media persona. The new id. The new ego.
So, you see, here's the truth of it. Who are we without social media? And do we even exist?
Some of us even consider what our social media post will be about a place before going there. What will I post on that holiday, or after I have a baby, or get that job? Maybe we even consider it before we book the tickets, get pregnant or apply for employment. Maybe we only do those actions with the social media post in mind.
The chicken or the egg? The post or the person? It's time to break down that pillar established by Descartes hundreds of years ago.
Cogito ego sum. I think, therefore I am.
The thinking is no longer important, dear friend. It's the posting that is.