Contrived life at play

Perhaps the most common social media question at the moment is ‘What’s on your mind?’ Simple as it may seem, we struggle to come up with anything truly self-reflective. Here’s why.

Our lives run in a twofold. The real life and the contrived life. The real life is our everyday life – this is our life as it is. The contrived life is our tailored life – this is our life as we present. Of the two, the one that seems to demand more attention is the contrived life; simply because it involves others. It’s one reason why – as contrived self’s pet platform – the remarkable appeal of social media makes sense.

The sticky influence of our contrived life means that everyone everywhere is playing a role – to present a tailored version of life and its experiences better. This notion was put forward in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life by the sociologist Erving Goffman, who sums it up pretty well, ‘all of life is a performance.’ So we all act out a role in every interaction, and adapt it depending on the nature of the relationship, or the context in which it happens.

But we’re not just role-players or participants anymore. We’re observers, given the nature of contrived life which requires us to relay our experiences back to the world of others. As observers, we examine our experiences in detail, picking up bits and pieces to build a story to be told later – social media and its related gadgetry help the cause immensely. All the retelling and relaying develops us into narrators. Moving from role-players and participants into observers and narrators, our focus shifts from living the moment to retelling the experience later.

Besides, our experiences change not just in the retelling, but the stories we tell ourselves too. The stories we tell ourselves are built on the excitement experienced at the peak of our experience. The peak of our excitement occurs either during the anticipation of an experience or during the end of an experience, not during the experience itself. This principle of human psychology forms the basis of Daniel Kanheman’s ‘peak-and-end’ theory. Most of the pleasure happens when we’re not actually having the experience. This means the role of living the moment is not as exciting as the role of updating on the moment.

The conception of this role gets infused into our personality and defines our identity eventually. It’s a role that’s content with the arrangement of a tailored life at the expense of experiencing it. A role that seeks comfort in recognising patterns and rituals over randomness and spontaneity. A role that’s not entirely own, but shaped for the consumption of others. A product of such a role is the identity, which is developed less internally and more externally.

Hence, as a result of the contrived life at play, we struggle to find anything truly self-reflective even for a genuine question like 'What’s on your mind?’

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