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On the Documentation Generation

Ever watch “reality television?” Ever think, “These people are idiots. I could be on this show and do a better job?” Me too.

Did you ever consider, though, that these people, often teenagers or twenty-somethings, are being asked to lead “normal” lives all while having a camera crew document the whole charade? That has to have an effect on a person…right? Well, no not really.

Sociologists and researchers are raising new questions about the phenomenon.

Sociologists have begun to question the effect of all this exhibitionism on young people. Can they form durable
identities off-camera, or are they so used to producing their images for outside consumption that images have replaced their essences? Will a generation for whom all secrets are fair game and every private moment can become public trust each other and form intimate relationships? Jennie Yabroff, Newsweek

What I find most interesting about this is how it relates to human interaction. In the critical media world, there is a concept known as “parasocial relationship.” The term refers to a situation in which one party feels that they are sharing a sincere, intimate relationship with a second party, however the second party has no knowledge of the presumed “relationship.”

The sitcom Friends spoofed the parasocial relationship when Joey played a character on a soap opera, Dr. Drake Remoray. Joey goes on a date with a beautiful woman, who believes that she is dating Drake, refusing to acknowledge that Drake is a fictional character portrayed by Joey (play within a play, anyone?).

We’ll call this Parasocial Level 1.

A logical extension of this definition of parasocial relations is the concept of being friends with a fictional character. It takes the aforementioned definition into account, where the second party has no knowledge of the “friendship,” in this case because the second party doesn’t actually exist.

In this case, if I thought Bart Simpson was my best friend and we hung every night around 7:30pm, I would be enguaging in this second type of parasocial relationship.

We’ll call this Parasocial Level 2.

How does this all relate?

Well, it’s my assertion that the “documentation generation” is moving in the direction of Joey/Drake’s beautiful date. This is true in several ways:

First, the “doc gens” are losing self identity in the name of performance and acting, impairing their ability to function as healthy, balanced individuals, and maybe impairing their ability to recognize the difference between reality and “reality tv.”

Second, doc gens put so much stock in their performances and those of their peers, that their friends are only constructed representations of themselves. Therefore, they are actually creating and relying upon friendships with scripted characters.

Voila, an example of Parasocial Level 2.

Interesting implications for the future of American society… I hope it doesn’t become to severe a problem.

Note: It’s worth pointing out that yes, I do realize the irony in writing a blog post about this issue… READ MY BLOG AND THEN WE CAN PRETEND WE’RE FRIENDS!

Check out the full Newsweek article. It’s really an excellent article.