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Photographed by Nadia Lee Cohen

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1 January 2023 

I’m In My Era, Era: A philosophical reading into being in one’s ‘era’ and the distortion of time 

GRACE GALLAGHER

The need to ascribe meaning to our lives through the pursuit of creating narratives has been a well-documented part of philosophy since its birth.

 

Thinking of our lives like stories written by other people is often a useful tool for articulating our past, managing the present, and comprehending the future. In recent internet discourse there has been an obsession with expressing our daily tasks, things we consume, and the objects that surround us, as an ‘era’. For example, if I have soup and bread for lunch, I am in my ‘soup with bread era’, or at the weekend if I embarrassed myself in front of my ex, I am in my ‘flop era’. However, an ‘era’ implies a prolonged stint in history, like the Industrial Revolution, or Ancient Rome, not the fact that I bought a pair of rollerblades that I am yet to use, so what has happened to our conceptualisation of time? And why is everything now an ‘era’? 

 

Philosophical narratives allow us to express the way we think and communicate meaningfully, helping us to ascribe intention to mundane action. This allows us to operate chronologically and morally as actors through the creation of the self, something outside of me. Philosopher Daniel Dennett argues that the self is a product of fiction, merely a vessel constructed by the brain to comprehend phenomena. Such as the narrator in ‘Fleabag’, we never get to know her real name and although we are invited into fragments of how she really feels, the supporting characters in her life (other than the hot priest) are left with what feel like curated moments that feel outside of who she ‘truly’ is.

 

During the pandemic, we lost a sense of meaning personally and socially. Perhaps the ‘era-effect' acts as a way of creating meaning almost artificially, over-stating influences from the media and the things you consume as a means to create a sense of selfhood that fully embodies external stimuli. Moreover, this need to see ourselves from the outside is a key part of the ‘era’; our desire to see ourselves from the perspective of someone else, almost like fictional characters, gives us a sense of narrative importance. Everything can be perfectly packaged into a set of perfectly crafted photographs, giving the illusion of unstudied selfhood, corresponding to a moment in time where our lives might be falling to pieces but we look conveniently beautiful. We have attempted to dramatise what is essentially mundane in the search to create narratives of self. For example, if we are having a personal crisis, we can sit with a glass of wine and a cigarette, we are now all in our ‘Fleabag era’. For a fleeting moment we encapsulate an all-encompassing whirlwind of messiness from the comfort of our own homes. 

 

By fitting multiple ‘eras’ into a week, day, or even hour it feels as though we have lived more lives than we have, implying that our recent personal histories are richer than they truly are. This not only gives us meaning, but distorts our concept of time by categorising behaviour and interest in a way that gives it a prolonged memory (despite being really fleeting). 

 

Furthermore, in our early twenties as all news becomes more formidable by the day, trend cycles speed up, and we are constantly being sold anti-ageing and weight loss paraphernalia, we are becoming more aware of the ephemerality of time. This brings into question this idea of the future. Are we trying to fit in as many eras to our week in order to extend the time we have to enjoy and consume? Is the future aspirational? 

 

To be honest, it’s probably not that deep, but I feel that apps like TikTok have massively distorted our perception of time and reward, making time feel shorter. The videos we consume have shortened and consumer culture runs rife, digital life can feel incredibly alienating, confusing, and unsettling. 

 

So, as we go into the new year, to avoid feeling like the walls of a curated ‘photo-dump’ are caving in and as we are spending more time on social media, it feels important to be critical of what we are consuming. We must remember how this shapes our perceptions of who we are, who we want to be to others, and what this might mean for our social media futures. 

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