Did Milan Kundera telegraph the advent of social media?

Once the writer in every individual comes to life (and that time is not far off), we are in for an age of universal deafness and lack of understanding.”

~Milan Kundera~

Referencing the last paragraph in the excerpt of Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, it appears that Kundera was telegraphing the advent of social media, but furthermore prognosticating the effects of such a cultural phenomenon. There are parallels between Kundera’s coined “graphomania” on his generation and the effects of social media on our generation.

As described in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting “graphomania” is:

Graphomania (an obsession with writing books) reinforces and aggravates the feelings of general isolation in that everyone surrounds himself with his own writings as with a wall of mirrors cutting off all voices from without.”

In this abstract concept, Kundera is speaking to the universal and timeless human quality – self-preservation. Though this instinct is inextricably part of humanity’s DNA, civilization and technology have re-wired the human brain so that it functions more akin to self-obsession. The concept of self-obsession is motivated by something even more powerful that instinct – ego.

Freud’s notoriety was based entirely off of the ego. Likewise, so is Mark Zuckerberg’s and all his precursors.

As in Kundera’s generation, housewives needed to xerox their diaries to create the “Wall of Mirrors” ( this is just a tangible example, I harbor no hidden agenda against housewives). In this millennial generation, everyone has a “Wall of Status Updates and Pictures”.

Everyone wants a Facebook, a Twitter, a Tumblr, an Instagram, or a WordPress (guilty as charged). Social media has evolved from a means of mass social connectivity to a self-contained empire breeding and gratifying selfishness. We post pictures and write statuses about the most important life events, such as a death or a birth of a child; and the most mundane, what we ate for lunch or where we ate it. These “posts” or “tweets” allow our “followers” (Followers? Have we just regressed 100 years in history?) to envy, ogle, follow, and “like” you.

One could argue that postings on social media sites allow us to stay connected with loved ones through distance. Sure, that is one possibility for social media, but to the person that argues this point I pose another question.

How often do you check your families social media pages or your friends’? Once, twice a day? Or perhaps only when it pops up in your newsfeed as you are scrolling through your mobile app waiting in line at Starbucks. That sounds more accurate for the majority of my generation, again, guilty as charged.

Here is the conundrum: we expect to post a photo and receive at least several (definition of “several” subject to interpretation) “likes”, “comments”, or “re-tweets”. If this quota is not met, we are deemed unpopular on social media, and a correlation is made to our popularity in “real” life.

In this instance, we have failed at becoming immortalized and run the risk of being erased from the pages of history entirely. We as humans must leave our immutable mark.

Failing to become immortalized through our “photos” and “statuses” provokes us to populate another’s social media page. We “like” and “double tap”, and “comment” in hopes that the other party will reciprocate, thus immortalizing you on your social media page.

Kundera describes this fear, inspired by the ego, as the primary motivation for his generation wanting to become writers and surrounding themselves with their “Wall of Mirrors”, i.e., graphomania. For Kundera, he saw these desires in the form of words. In our technological generation, we see traces of this desire in the form of “likes” and “re-tweets”.

It sounds much more like a self-serving cycle than genuine communication with another person, doesn’t it? We may have gone into creating our social media pages with intentions of sincere communication, but this is not where we, as a culture, have arrived. Where we have arrived is indicative of mass isolation, universal deafness, and at times, lack of understanding, exactly what Kundera foretold.

“Graphomania” is a familiar concept to millennials. We call it “Facebooking”.