Although Woolf lived in a pre-Internet world, one journalist has connected her ideas about artistic and social conformity with contemporary society’s obsession with social media, and the depressive effects of scrolling through photos and updates of others’ curated lives.
The Canadian publication TheStar.com has published an essay by Emma Teitel which uses some of Woolf’s ideas from The Common Reader to describe the, “soul-numbing sensation of too much time spent on social media.”
In 1925, English novelist and outcast Virginia Woolf wrote about what happens to a person when she spends her entire life trying to fit in.
‘Once conform, once do what other people do because they do it,’ Woolf wrote in The Common Reader, a collection of essays, ‘and a lethargy steals over all the finer nerves and faculties of the soul. She becomes all outer show and inward emptiness; dull, callous, and indifferent.’
Woolf’s words from 1925 are as relevant today as they were in her own time, and when applied to social media, her critiques seem to explain the depression many people experience when looking through social media sources. Teitel explains:
…there are no words more precise than ‘dull, callous and indifferent’ to describe the emotional after-effect of scrolling your way into a funk on Facebook and Instagram, where you’ve inwardly begrudged the success and beauty of other people, all the while attempting to make your own appear far greater than it actually is.
Teitel asserts that Woolf’s critical line, “outer show and inward emptiness,” can even be used as the “official tagline” of social media. And perhaps the best lines from Teitel’s article, link Woolf’s writing to Kylie Jenner:
In fact, ‘Outer show and inward emptiness,’ could serve as the medium’s official tagline not to mention the caption beneath every Twitter selfie of Kylie Jenner.
Is there any aspect of contemporary life to which we can’t apply Woolf’s writings?