Sheldon Thomas


The Bread & Circus of Social Media

I often think of what 'expressive rationality' looks like in the context of social media. I first observed the term in the fantastic work of Paul Veyne:

There is something paradoxical about expressive rationality and the way it is adapted to its end: it will not produce its effect if it is too rational. A person who delights in himself and his own greatness has little thought for the impression he makes on others and will not calculate it precisely. And this the others know: they know that an authentic expression is one that disregards the onlookers and does not measure its effects. The self-important who indulge in excessive calculation do not see the spectators smiling behind their back. The spectator does not believe in a calculated expression, since real greatness delights in itself only. Only the expression that does not seek to produce an impression succeeds in making one.

Paul Veyne, 'Le pain et le cirque' or 'Bread & Circuses', 1976 Available Here

It often seems that 'expressive rationality' is a self-reinforcing side effect of modern social media as it exists in society today. Most individuals seem to aspire to appear outwardly rational, in whatever their own perception of that may be. Often this is defined by one's peers. One must reflect on how they appear to others, since social media must be by it's very definition a reflection of it's creators' desired outward appearance.

As Veyne aptly notes, an authentic expression is one which disregards the onlookers. But everything on social media is exactly that, for the onlookers.

Thus, can authentic social media exist? Isn't that a clear paradox?