Living In Third Person
NO LONGER JUST A BIOGRAPHICAL AFFECTATION, MORE OF US THESE DAYS ARE ACTUALLY LIVING IN THIRD PERSON...
Preface: This series of somewhat self-indulgent literary and philosophical reflections began with "Social Media Is a Highway, Not a Destination",
and in this installment, I question why, and to what extent so many of us have begun to see ourselves only as though we were looking at ourselves from the outside. Links to the previous articles in the series will be
found at the end of this post, should you be moved by this one to sample them.
Admittedly, speaking of oneself in the third person is an affectation into which I have fallen from time to time. For example, in writing one of the many editions of my resume, and in bios sent to editors along with article drafts, and to coordinators of conferences at which I have been schedule to speak.
Phil Friedman has some 30 years hands-on experience in...
I've also used third person when describing my background and experience on various of my websites — although my accumulating experience in marketing on social media and the Internet has brought me to increasingly abandon the practice.
I am not alone. A very significant number of people talk about themselves in the third person, in similar circumstances, and indeed, in a wide variety of other circumstances. However, that is not what I want to talk about here.
What I want to talk about here is a growing phenomenon best described as "living in the third person "...
I am sure you're familiar with reports and stories of "out-of-body" experiences. These are purported to be events in which someone's consciousness — soul, spirit, ghost, whatever — supposedly leaves his or her body and floats somewhere above it, watching what is happening to, and around that person.
Such purported incidents are usually connected to some traumatic injury, sometimes involving momentary heart stoppage or coma. As in most things having to do with the "paranormal", the precise details of each case are frequently not available. However, that which is is consistent in all reports of this kind of incident is the switch over to a third person point of view, where the subject no longer directly experiences the situation, but watches it — and him- or herself — from some external vantage point.
Don't get me wrong, and start sending me all the messages you're receiving from your dear departed grandmother, or accounts of cold drafts blowing through your house, doors opening and slamming by themselves, or strange moans in the night. Especially not strange moans in the night — which could simply be your neighbor watching cable porno TV with the with the volume set too high.
Real or simply perceived, out-of-body experiences are eerily similar to what is happening to social media devotees...
What I am talking about here is something much more earthly. Something that has to do with our brains, and the way we think.
Some philosophers, myself included, believe that the way in which someone speaks, its logical structure in a broad sense, models his or her conceptual framework. In other words, that one's use of language is a window into the way one thinks.
The other side of this coin, I suggest, is that the manner of speaking which someone adopts can, after a period of time, restructure the way that person thinks. And that, consequently, the habits of speech we exhibit are not only observable symptoms of how we experience the world, but actively work to filter and restructure how we experience the world.
Continually speaking of yourself in the third person can lead to thinking of, and seeing yourself in the third person...
So, you ask, what's the problem with the problem with that, big guy?
The problem is that it enables you to separate and isolate yourself from first-person awareness of your authentic — or as we used to say, existential — being. It also facilitates your misrepresentation of yourself not only to others, but to yourself.
How else to explain the incredible propensity of people on social media sites like LinkedIn or beBee to puff themselves up beyond credulity? To give themselves inflated titles and descriptions, like Thought Leader, Innovation Guru, Paradigm Terminator, or ... whatever? How else do you explain the ubiquitous practice on social media for everyone who is out of a job to designate him- or herself an entrepreneur? Or a CEO of a one-person company that has zero, or nearly no gross sales revenues and no active marketing activities?
What do people get out of representing themselves in a fantastic way? Surely, they are not so naive as to think anyone believes their bull chips. Or do they?
I suggest that, when you see yourself in the third person, you can filter out a lot of what you know "deep down" about yourself. You can treat yourself as you would a stranger, accepting at face value what you say about yourself. Just as you accept at face value what others say about themselves.
But that's not all. Most people underestimate themselves. Even those who appear as megalomaniacs often harbor self-doubts on an existential level. Self-doubts that are only felt when looking outward from an authentic first-person vantage point. Self-doubts that do not arise when looking inward from the outside, as when examining other people.
There is no doubt that seeing yourself as others see you — that is, from a third-person perspective — can become habitual...
Imagine being fitted always with a virtual-reality rig that, via a series of cameras, gives you at all times only an image of yourself as you are seen by others. (This application of virtual-reality gadgets is not made up.) Imagine further going about your life's activities this way, and how you would have to retrain your brain so that you could perform the common activities of daily life: drink from a cup, write a note on a piece of paper with a pen, comb your hair, and so on. And think about the difference in the perceptual corrections that you would have to make to your kinesthetic movements.
The point here is not that it would be so difficult to adapt, but rather that you would probably adapt quite readily and rapidly. Living "outside your body" would start to feel natural very quickly. For the brain is an amazingly adaptable organ.
And that is what so many are doing on social media — retraining themselves to see themselves in third person...
It starts with finding positive feedback in the form of likes from people who view your photos and comments, then progresses as you fine tune how you present yourself in order to increase the amount of "liking", then to creating a puffed up persona that is again fine tuned to what you believe will find the highest positive reaction. If along the way you find yourself more comfortable with the filtered third-person view of yourself than with that annoyingly candid first-person perspective, you start to live more and more in third-person until.. you assign greater reality to looking inward from the outside than to looking outward from within.
Is what I've said here the product of long scientific study? Hardly. Could it be a suggestion for future study? I believe so. Indeed, some related research concerning the effects of social media participation on rewiring our brains has already been ongoing for several years, with initial reports now being released which do not bode well.
However, whether scientific theory or socio-philosophical speculation, what I've said here is, I submit, in the main true. And I recommend that if you find yourself in Third Person, you get back into your vehicle and get the hell out of town as fast as you can. — Phil Friedman
Authors Notes: This piece is the seventh in a series of philosophical reflections which I've dubbed "The Road Chronicles" because they are organized around the metaphor of travel along a road. If you would like to read one or more of the previous installments of the series, they can be found at:
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About me, Phil Friedman: With
30 some years background in the marine industry, I've worn numerous
hats — as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine operations and business
manager, marine industry consultant, marine marketing and
communications specialist, yachting magazine writer and editor, yacht
surveyor, and marine industry educator. I am also trained and
experienced in interest-based negotiation and mediation. In a previous
life, I taught logic and philosophy at university.
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2016 by Phil Friedman — All Rights Reserved
Images Credits: Phil Friedman, and Google Images