Among all the other things that Social Media has killed in recent years sincerity is probably number one. I'm not one to harp on about a 'post-truth' world, that has been written about many times over. However, honesty and sincerity definitely have less value than they used to.
Let's deconstruct what this phenomenon is by looking at what honesty means. Here's what Wikipedia says:
Honesty refers to a facet of moral character and connotes positive and virtuous attributes such as integrity, truthfulness, straightforwardness, including straightforwardness of conduct, along with the absence of lying, cheating, theft, etc. Honesty also involves being trustworthy, loyal, fair, and sincere.
Straightforwardness and sincerity feature heavily in this definition and when you look at the concept of honesty through this lens it's not hard to see how there's been less of it in the last couple of decades. Social media is, at least partly, to blame. The vast majority of people use social media. We use it to keep in touch with people and share our lives with others. However, and this is no surprise, when we use it we present an image of ourselves which, for obvious reasons, isn't real.
Nobody wants to read about, let alone see, the huge dump I took earlier and if I went on facebook and religiously documented my life without obscuring any part of it I would, at the very least, probably be banned from facebook. If we look at someone's Instagram profile we will make inferences about that person that have very little to do with reality. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Privacy is important and a world with no secrets would lead to all kinds of trouble when combined with other aspects of the human condition. Secrets are secret for a reason. But a phenomenon like catfishing someone would've been comparatively impossible in the pre-social media days.
Film, TV and even the news media are just as much to blame. We don't talk about it but most of the entertainment we consume is, at some level, a form of art. In today's saturated media landscape it's hard to escape it and yet, it presents just as distorted a reality to us as we do to each other. This is also not without its reason and in most cases the distortion is, far more obvious than the distortions which are inherent to social media. While it might be easy to forget that the guy who always posts awesome party stuff to his facebook isn't always popping champagne in the club surrounded by attractive women, we all know movies aren't real. With other forms of media the lines get blurry.
YouTube is overtaking TV as the primary method of distribution for video based content consumed on a daily basis. With vloggers like Casey Neistat showing us how awesome life can be it's easy to forget that their life isn't always like that. Review channels and gaming streams and all the other myriad forms of content on YouTube do this to some degree. And we, as an audience, empathise with these poeple a lot more than we do with film stars and TV hosts.
The news media, while not technically a form of art, is also to blame for the distortion of reality. Most news outlets try to appear impartial on the surface but they have just as much bias in them as everything else. While facts are often presented as they are, just as often they are given a spin to influence our opinion in some way, and we don't even notice it because we trust the authoritative source that they come from.
However, it is on YouTube that our hero of the modern age produces his content to be consumed by the masses. His name? Bobby Burns.
At 20 years old he looks like any YouTuber, however, there is one feature of his content that makes him stand out. It's his pursuit of honesty, sincerity and straightforwardness.
As an example, a video he posted, titled How To Emotionally Manipulate Your YouTube Audience makes a point. The point is simple: everyone manipulates their YouTube audience through use of specific techniques in order to make the viewer understand and identify with their message.
He makes it clear that while this isn't necessarily wrong to do it's definitely duplicitous. This video made some waves, one of the techniques mentioned in it even became a kind of meme, but it's only one example of a type of honesty and straightforwardness that is rarely seen by the public today. In fact, I haven't seen any other example of a modern entertainer that makes such a point of being honest with their audience and of criticising the aspects of our entertainment culture which propagate dishonesty.
This is why we need Bobby Burns. I'm being somewhat tongue in cheek here, of course. Bobby Burns isn't a superhero that will save the world from itself. He isn't the only honest person in the world and he's definitely not the messiah, but his approach is sorely lacking in our public discourse. As our worldview is becoming more and more distorted, people become more partisan and less open to debate. The advertising economy combined with sophisticated data-mining has made content which opposes a person's worldview harder to come across without deliberately looking for it. That means that when we look into the mirror of art hoping, even subconciously, to see a reflection of the true world around us we just get our own distorted view right back. This effect wreaks havoc on our society.
In a world where we lie to ourselves and everyone around us while everyone else lies to us on a daily basis, maybe the mirror our society holds up to itself in order to see its flaws should try it's best to tell the truth.