The mind is king of an infinite space, where each person is very much their own God. In thought, a person can murder, rape and pillage with no repercussion, save a concerned conscience. They can be heroic, with no congratulation except a self-created marvelling at an imagined gallantry. Yet, to act with such freedom in a physical reality incurs the reaction of other social consciences; consciences which actualise and socialise the mind’s ideals, making them a social reality. Indeed, it seems that the nature of human existence is a compromise between one’s own mind and the minds of others living around us, where clashing ideals form our laws and our morality. And with seven billion people fighting for their ideals, the space that a person has to project their thoughts onto reality is shrinking. The mind might still be considered a king, but only to an inner-city allotment.
In the mind our actions are simply hypothetical, conceived of, but not exercised. Neuropsychologists believe that action is not the exhibition of thought, but rather, the result of only one thought that is not inhibited amongst an infinite number of other thoughts. This single thought is acted upon because it is the most appropriate action for the particular social context. The inhibition capability is inculcated into the human being through social interaction, cultivating what might be termed a cultural competence. Here the infinite possibilities of the mind become finite; reduced to one social representation where a person is defined by those who indirectly force him/her into choosing how he/she should act. In short, we are individuals only in relation to other people.
My curiosity lies in humanity’s attempts to realise their own internal monologues, or indeed their need to escape social impediments. I wish to account for our repeated efforts, in creating or performing on metaphysical platforms, to represent an alternate and idealised version of the self; what might be categorised as a superhero syndrome. In tracking this perpetual need to escape the frailty of the body and the imperfections of the social persona, one begins to notice the contradiction of the human being and the evolution of the divided personality: the dividual.
Such self-aggrandisement can be seen throughout history; in the idealism of the Hellenist portraiture, or on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel where Michelangelo turned God into man. In poetry and literature, authors wish to outlive their mortality, enshrining their invented egos in their own ink. The late W.H. Auden said that in his earlier works he tried deliberately to be ambiguous so that he could propagate an air of mystery, a glorified ambiguity. In the past where art was not as widely accessible and therefore little seen compared to today, these artists could not have been aware of their reputation among a wider audience. Van Gogh who was little respected during his lifetime is now lauded in death- his mania of then transformed into his genius of now. Yet, it is only of late that the existential dilemma of the artist can be identified on a wider scale, where technology has globalised the human contradiction. Through technology the dividual has become available to the mass market.
Film, as a technology, can be seen as the first step in globalising this dichotomy of a divided personality. Stars of the screen have lived vicariously through a limited number of universally idealised images. James Dean’s image, for example, was thought by many people to be the epitome of style and the pinnacle of heterosexuality. In this way he was used as a means by which to suppress the banality of the working man’s life, or the inadequacy of a women’s husband- he lived perfection for them. Is it not ironic then, that in reality Dean was sexually ambiguous and troubled, his flaws as patent as those who looked to him as a means of subsuming theirs; he was a globaldividual perpetuating a global dividuality. Film was thus the method by which the masses could flock to an ideal. However, the film star image was limited in its idealising potential. This was because the individual viewer’s particular and perfected ideal was inhibited by a one ideal fits all solution; it was imposing rather than liberating.
A step beyond both film and the pursuits of the artist, the evolution of social networking has saved the masses the despair of living for surrogate ideals, engendered by only the talented and famous. With the creation of these sites we have seen the genesis of a cyber-culture, where physical interaction has been replaced by virtual interaction. Social networks have galvanised traditional interpretations of human sociality, and with the creation of sites such as Bebo, MySpace, Twitter and Facebook the average individual is provided with a means by which to appear differently to society. The nature of these sites allows the person to pick and choose what is said about them and with whom they are associated with. Moreover, the person can manipulate and contrive their own aesthetic through airbrushed pictures and carefully selected poses. The experience is tantamount to a tailor-made reality in which the body and self can be enhanced to their biological limits. On a social media site, Jack the lad can now proudly express his masculinity, testicles out, drinking obscene amounts of alcohol in various contorted positions and on Twitter, people are afforded the opportunity to pseudo-intellectualise themselves.
On these sites people are more willing to take the social risks that they would not dare even to contemplate in a physical reality. The reason for this is because of the freedom that these alternate realities offer the inhabitant. Here the barriers, stopping most of us in the real world, are relinquished, and the legal problems of perennially parading one’s testicles around town are solved by a single immortal image on Facebook. Moreover, the processes of having one’s ideas and thoughts published on paper were often onerous and in the face of rejection, quite painful, however, in the electronic world, a simple downward press of the right index finger and instant immortalisation is granted. In all instances the social repercussions which make these types of actions more difficult in the real world are drastically diluted in the cyber world; people are thus presented with an ideal platform to project an idealised version of who they are.
These social platforms make it apparent that humans seek ways in which to replicate their minds in reality. Moreover, the social networking site is an evermore evolved manifestation of this on-going struggle to communicate an inner ideal self, requiring none of the talent that was previously needed to “split the soul”. It seems that in the modern world we are afforded the ability to accessorise our identity, communicate an ideal self, and project it for all to see.
Yet, with this transference of the alternate self from the mind into the realm of the social, the reputation of the person becomes ambiguous. The character is split into two halves, between how they are to those who immediately know them, and how they appear to those who know the person’s alter ego. And as the number of Facebook users hits the 500 million mark and access to other forms of creative media becomes easier, will notions of personhood change in line with technological advance? Will what we consider to be moral be applied differently to each of our personalities? Although these questions await the verdict of time, what is conclusive is that in an increasingly overcrowded world we are forced to make room for what our mind only knows. And it is the dividual that is the direct human product of a need to map our ideals onto a meta-reality.