All realities of the human mind are essentially social constructions arising out of not just the biological needs, but also the way they have been socialized into this world, by their significant ‘others’. These realities give rise to certain behaviours. Out of this arises institutionalization of those certain behavioursthat are shared to the extent that they are taken for granted. To begin with, institutions seem to predate the human existence, and yet, it is humans themselves who have created this institution in the first place. So how does it actually occur? First we must understand habituation – or a pattern of behavior repeated several times over a long period. Once an activity begins, often in a group, as a shared experience, habituation follows. Habituation leads to a certain way of life that gets added to the “general stock of knowledge”. When this knowledge is passed on to the next generation, often, the functionality of the activity may be lost, but the activity itself goes on. Sedimentation occurs, in that, it gets stored in the memory. It is as people say “this has to be done because it is the right thing to do”. No one understands why it is the right thing to do. Now, if a group of people began with a habituation that got institutionalized, it is easier to reform it. Once it reaches the next generation, it establishes itself so firmly, through various means of legitimization, that it gets difficult to amend them. Legitimization itself is a means of control, giving a foundation to institutionalism. This is done through multiple methods, entailed in the symbolic universe of mythology, theology, philosophy and science. Both institutionalization and legitimization work through three processes – Externalization – Objectivation (of meaning) – Internalization.
Given the above knowledge, it is apt to check its implications on social media. There has been a trend for a long time now to post the “happy images” on social media. This is not only taken as being reflective of people’s lives, but also used as a standard of measure for an individual’s own life. For example, Chou and Edge (2011), examining the impact of Facebook on college students, found that people who used Facebook longer, seemed far unhappy with their lives. They seemed to regard the happy photos of others as a basis of their personality, and in turn, deemed their own life as unfair. This was only one of the many studies that have been conducted over the years. There is a general rule to portray the happy side of life.
But as is seen in the case of legitimization, there are always deviants in the group. These are the people who refuse to “blend in” with their understanding of the symbolic universe. They are either removed from the sphere, deeming them as not worthy or incorporated into the existing structures. In the context of social media, given the happy images on one side, the other image is that of extreme sadness, anxiety or worry. There have been many websites, Instagram profiles, etc. that have propped up with sad quotes about life, love and living. They legitimize the feelings of those who seem to acknowledge their lives as being unfair, as compared to others. These posts “claim” to portray a stark reality, in contrast to the “fake” happiness of the other profiles. Since not all people are happy in their lives all the time, and since negative memories or emotions get registered more than the positive ones; people tend to feel that these posts validate their existence. The very existence that was questioned by the social profiles of others. Yet in doing so, it has created exactly what the previous version did – a rigid category. The social media is now divided into two dichotomies – the happy and the sad; the surreal and the reality; the “should be done” versus the “how it really is”, or so perceived.
This is an interesting turn of events, because neither of those assumed realities are actually real. For most parts, human life tends to exist in the grey areas. This is because the extremities of what constitutes “happy” and what constitutes “sad” can seldom be met by any person. Even if it does occur in someone’s life, it is never ever-lasting. Hence, the grey area is where the human mind usually operates – the very area that is never and can never be represented on the virtual world.
Given that certain behaviours become habituation and habituation adds on to the stock of knowledge, institutionalizing it in the next generation, what remains to be seen is that how these two extreme dichotomies are going to get incorporated into “peaceful” existence. It is not to say that these dichotomies never existed; but mostly at an individual level or in a smaller group where it could get incorporated. But with the coming closer of the global world, through this very virtual social platform, the establishment of a certain behavior would be far-reaching. What this will result in is a consequence worth waiting to be studied in the future. Till then, one can only guess about the amount of chaos such extremities will lead people to.
- Berger, P. L., &Luckmann, T. (1991). The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge(No. 10). Penguin UK.
- Chou, H. T. G., & Edge, N. (2012). “They are happier and having better lives than I am”: the impact of using Facebook on perceptions of others’ lives. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15(2), 117-121.
Mitakshara Medhi is a graduate of Lady Shri Ram College (Psychology), Delhi University.
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