Social media has become a major presence in our lives today, but the question that is raised is, “What has the internet and social media done to us?” John Lanchester writes in the course of his studies at Stanford, “Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, an early investor in the company, became interested in the ideas of the US-based French philosopher René Girard, as advocated in his most influential book, Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World.” He was most especially interested in a concept he called “mimetic desire.”

Lanchester goes on to say, ”Human beings are born with a need for food and shelter. Once these fundamental necessities of life have been acquired, we look around us at what other people are doing, and wanting, and we copy them.” “Imitation is at the root of all behavior,” explains Thiel. Thiel saw in Facebook a business that was Girardian to its core. It was built on people’s deep need to copy. Yet few of it’s users, have clearly perceived that essential aspect of Facebook and other social media platforms.

Despite having died decades before their development, Marshall McLuhan would have caught on right away. For some reason we in the 21st Century have not caught on and he understood why we haven’t. The author of Understanding Media and The Medium is the Message said, ”For the past 3500 years of the Western world, the effects of media — whether it’s speech, writing, printing, photography, radio or television — have been systematically overlooked by social observers.” An in-depth 1969 interview with Playboy magazine stated, ”Even in today’s revolutionary electronic age, scholars evidence few signs of modifying this traditional stance of ostrich-like disregard.”

This statement broke professor McLuhan’s ideas to an even wider audience than they’d had before. McLuhan diagnosed a “peculiar form of self-hypnosis” he called “Narcissus narcosis, a syndrome whereby man remains as unaware of the psychic and social effects of his new technology as a fish of the water it swims in. As a result, precisely at the point where a new media-induced environment becomes all pervasive and transmogrifies our sensory balance, it also becomes invisible.”

“Most people, from truck drivers to the literary Brahmins, are still blissfully ignorant of what the media do to them; unaware that because of their pervasive effects on man, it is the medium itself that is the message, not the content, and unaware that the medium is also the massage — that, all puns aside, it literally works over and saturates and molds and transforms every sense ratio. The content or message of any particular medium has about as much importance as the stenciling on the casing of an atomic bomb.” As per McLuhan’s perspective on the subject.

“The inherent tendency to focus on the messages within the media make us blind to the limits and structures imposed by the mediums themselves,” McLuhan pointed out. According to McLuhan, each time a society develops a new media technology, “all other functions of that society tend to be transmuted to accommodate that new form” as that technology “saturates every institution of that society.” Thus proving the consequences of being blind.

This went for speech, writing, print, and the telegraph as well as it goes for “social media platforms like Twitter, which reduce expressive possibilities to 140 characters of text or expressing one’s self through the ‘re-tweeting’ of posts by others.”

At one time McLuhan believed that only the interpretive work of the artist, “who has had the power — and courage — of the seer to read the language of the outer world and relate it to the inner world,” could allow the rest of us to recognize the thoroughgoing effects of technology on society. However, “the new environment of electric information” had made possible “a new degree of perception and critical awareness by non artists.” If we take a step back and analyze this more of us can understand our affliction by mimetic desire, Narcissus narcosis, or any number of other troubling conditions. What to do about them still remains an open question.