One of the more annoying side effects of American consumerism is our generation's obsessive sculpting and grooming of social media personae. In a society that commodifies everything, consumers start to see themselves as brands and market themselves accordingly. You know the drill. It might be human nature to bury the vulnerable self under a heap of images and words portraying the busy, hip, and photogenic “you.” But if it is true that this has always gone on, certainly the Internet makes it easier. And worse, the Internet makes it constant. There used to be some moments of privacy. Now you can get a post-coital selfie of the cigarette between your lips.
So while social construction of the self is not new, it is only now pervasive enough to affect minute-to-minute decision-making. Since everything we do has the potential to be recorded and displayed, we all live under the illusion that we are living public lives. What used to be personal decisions—“Would I enjoy spending an afternoon in Central Park?”—now become more public—“How would my peers view my afternoon in Central Park?” The result is the all-too-familiar Facebook barrage of photos carefully orchestrated to look casual. “Quick, take a candid of my indifference.” The conflict is still completely internal, of course—nobody actually gives a shit about what you do in your free time—but we now have an inner crowd of imaginary friends that we're trying to please, and it affects, in a very real way, how we choose to spend our time.
Obviously, this kind of crowd-pleasing is intolerable to students of Columbia, who wouldn't deign to pander to the masses, how ever imaginary. Instead we have built another façade to cover up our façade-building: irony. Of all the hipster virtues—obscurity, anachronism, novelty, apathy—our generation clings most tightly to irony. We hold it as dear as a Bushwick resident does his unicycle. Instagram your dinner but qualify it with a “#foodie” and, voilà, suddenly your snap is a social commentary instead of another useless addition to the heap of Internet self-memorabilia. Irony is the public equivalent of passive aggression, but it is slightly more dangerous because we celebrate it. It is a get-out-of-jail-free card for any activity, no matter how inane.
But as much fun as it is, irony has nowhere near the vim and vigor of its old heartthrob friend, conviction. (Ooh, conviction, so sultry.) I miss the good old days when people did things with conviction instead of the pretense of a joke. You want to take salsa lessons? Take them! You want to be a painter? Paint! No need to wink or chuckle. No need to qualify it with “lawl.” Above all people appreciate confidence, sincerity, and a conviction that doesn't require the accompaniment of nervous giggling.
Conviction is the Bruce Willis of reason. Conviction bursts in with a machine gun and a raging boner and says, “I'm going to do this because it makes sense to me.” Irony, played by Michael Cera, waddles in, flaccid, doe-eyed, confused, and, with a voice crack, mumbles some insufferable joke that has nothing at all to do with what he's actually thinking. Irony is a boring, soulless, populist trick, more intent on looking good than doing good.
It's only fair, though, to remember that irony as a way of living is very different from irony as a way of speaking. Sarcastic, linguistic irony can be a wonderful weapon in the crusade against lived irony. For example, the rather ironic phrase, “I'm so glad you sent me a Snapchat of your deliberately unenthusiastic facial expression at Coachella,” might be a step towards conviction. Like any rhetorical device, it has the power to do good and evil. And I'm not such a buzzkill as to turn down the occasional, well-placed ironic mustache. Obviously those ironically hideous class sweaters everyone got were funny. Columbia Athletics' protest of NCAA sports with its ironic all-game-losing-streak this year was a heroic act of ironic social progress, a kind of burlesque of the collegiate system. I get it. Well played, Columbia. But the endless tweets of your daytrip to midtown captioned with “touristttttt” are not innocuous. They are ruining my life, and I demand that you stop. (That last line is meant to be ironic).
Jake Goldwasser is a Columbia College senior majoring in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African studies. Thinking Twice runs alternate Tuesdays.
To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.