The Material Nature of Social Media

It is not my intention to portray the smartphone, as a thing, or social media, as a phenomenon, as being fetishised by the individual. Rather, I aim to outline the means to which human relationships and experiences are increasingly materialised through the prominence of the aforementioned in today’s society.


Witnessing the cherry picked aspects of the lives of people you know. It understandably becomes an objective to engage with social media in order to present yourself, and your life, in a positive light. For if this were not the case, why post anything into the transparent realm of social media to be viewed by others? What compels a person to post is less personal enjoyment than it is personal justification to others. To be more specific, social media becomes a virtual soundboard for justifying your social existence to those you know, the smartphone being merely a tool to do so wherever you choose. The room for the subjective enjoyment of one’s life is, without doubt, becoming increasingly diminished.

Whether it be a holiday or a night out with friends. Both become as much of an event to capture on your smartphone and upload to social media as to enjoy them for what they are. The 50 like photo on Instagram becomes as important as the beauty of the view captured in the photo, the video of the performance of a favourite song as important as the riff, beat or melody that drew you too it. The proof of being here and doing that, supersedes the enjoyment of the moment, sharing online becomes as important as the sharing of the experience with your friends there and then.


Such materialisation does not only relate to the more enjoyable aspects of modern life. Despite the general shift of working activity in the advanced world from the production line to the office block, the general consensus points to work remaining as individualised and monotonous as ever. The division of labour still remains, just in a white collar environment. The alienation from those you work with and what you contribute towards is ever present, the separation from those you wish to spend time is perennially ensured by the necessity of work.


The monotony of modern life and work is once again traded off against material gain in an increasingly consumerist and ostentatious manner. In the twenty first century, social media plays the role of presenting a platform to what could in the past only have only been spread by accidently loud conversations or tip offs to known gossips.

Not only this, employee engagement with social media within the workplace, undoubtedly something that keeps productivity hunters awake at night; represents at best little more than an unconscious desire for social interaction that cannot quite be quenched, and at worst an attempt to promote ones social life relative to the boredom of the nine till five. Obfuscating opposition to the nature of the work itself, our social lives and social relationships can be clung onto despite the evident detachment from them engendered by the imposition of work.

As a final note. All of the above represents little more than the social reproduction of a material world that more and more people, admittedly including myself, are increasingly guilty of engaging with. The blending of the social and the material, seems sadly to be an ever deepening process.

If you wish to contribute a similar piece covering contemporary economic and political events or progressive politics in general. Please contact James Clark at: @jclarkpolecon

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