What Facebook Taught Me that Philosophy Never Did

Philosophy and Facebook have both provided a means for my education. When I speak of education, I am referring to the broader notion of “learning,” neither limited to desk and chalkboard, nor to social cues and responses. I’m referring to a combination of sorts. My education since I began a higher education has consisted of learning my place in the world, or rather what it could be, through the knowledge of those come and passed, scholarly, socially, and sometimes even both. The education that each Facebook and philosophy have provided me thus far has been clearly distinct—philosophy has taught me how to think, and Facebook has taught me what to think about.

To its critics, a problem with philosophy is that there is no right answer. Unlike other subjects, philosophy does not have a definable content, one that can be explicated in a single book or defined through a set of rigid principles that have proved tried and true via the scientific method. There is hypothesizing, but there is no measuring. Philosophers draw theories, but those theories are not quantifiable. Many view the subject’s ambiguity as its limitation, but those on the “other side” view it from quite the opposite mindset; the fluidity of philosophy is precisely what makes it the challenging, eye-opening, and necessary discipline that it is.

Rather than limit itself to a set repertoire of content to be analyzed, philosophy analyzes what every other subject takes for granted. It pulls the rug out from under assumptions and asks how it is that we know. It questions what we mean when we say certain things, and whether we could ever really say what we mean. It searches for the answers to the problems in life—answers to things that many do not even view as problems, or view as trivial problems at best. Philosophy analyzes meaning—both on a broad scale (think “life”) and a small scale (think “the meaning of words”).

Facebook on the other hand, does not show me how to go about my thoughts, when to question “givens,” or why to question them. Rather, Facebook shows me what is important and relevant to me. It shows me this because it shows me what is important and relevant to the things that are tailored to me—my friends, family, political party, bands, food, and stores I’ve “liked.” These things are important because they cater to me. They are important because I am important. They are important because they are supposed to be important.

Right?

One of the most important and applicable lessons of philosophy is that it tells me that I am allowed to look at the world from the standpoint of “what if.” It says that not only am I allowed to question the assumptions of life, but that I am obligated to question these assumptions and to search for a way to know myself, my place, and my meaning better. Approaching the world philosophically has allowed me to question everything, assume nothing, and never take no—or yes—for a final answer.

My Facebook education has taught me the complete opposite of what it intended to. Sure, it has showed me what I “should” think about, but it also showed me what I should think about. By feeding me everything that I am supposed to care about, it allowed me to see that there is far more to care about—Facebook showed me how limited my world could be if I allowed it to be. It showed me that the indecisive and unexamined life is there, it is easy, and it is effortless. Facebook proved to be very much a metaphor for life. If I want my life to be decided for me, it can be just that.

Social media taught me that in life, if I do not make the active attempt to make a change, I will live on life’s terms. By showing me what to think about, it inadvertently showed me that my thought content should extend far beyond the computer screen displaying the supposed contents of my life. By feeding me content, it has made me realize how insufficient that content really is. I learned that if I am not aware that there is more than what I agree with, more than what I like, and more than who is the most salient in my newsfeed, then I will be condemned to the limited life. What I see—and choose not to see—my friends, my potential friends, my careers, and my hobbies, will be determined for me if I sit back and let it all happen.

Facebook showed me that while there is nothing wrong with making decisions based on my current life trends, doing so in a passive manner creates tunnel vision. By letting someone or something determine what and whom it is I should believe in, should like, should interact with, and should apply for, the pieces of my life eventually would fall into place without my say. They will create a puzzle whose solution is unbeknownst to me, and whose creation was the product of my passivity and failure to see the world from an alternative standpoint—the very virtues that my philosophy education has required me to adhere to.

Where social media provided content, philosophy provided means and a means out. Facebook showed me that I could live the predetermined life. Philosophy showed me that I didn’t have to.

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