Around the turn of the millennium something very strange happened to the way human beings interacted with each other. With the dawn of social media emerged an entirely new dimension of the human psyche. One directly intertwined with the massive network of computers that we had become increasingly reliant on in areas such as commerce, leisure, and national infrastructure. Where socialising had previously required a degree of proximity it was now possible to achieve regardless of distance, and in one of the most startling moments in human history we all became instantly connected to one another in a completely new way.

This development had its roots in the forums and chatrooms of the primitive internet years, but it was the founding of the now defunct MySpace in 2002 and the powerhouse that is Facebook in 2005 when things began to get really weird. We became the most connected we have ever been as a society, and everything from the way we preserved memories to how we informed each other of new relationships changed immeasurably. We had at our disposal a new means of socialising, one that quickly became the norm and spread across the planet as the established way to arrange everything from a dictator-toppling protest to a night down the pub.

However, as with every unchecked and profit based development in society, shit got dark pretty quickly. Facebook is barely ten years old but has nevertheless become a part of our day-to-day lives, a manmade beast that went far beyond our expectations and now retains our thoughts, tracks our locations, and rifles through our private information with little regard for ethics or the potential repercussions.

The Matrix in full swing.

We lost control of social media some time ago by allowing it to become the predominant means of global socialisation. Now it is the norm and we have become indifferent, continuing to use these platforms despite the numerous emerging mental health issues, the vast invasion of privacy, and the relentless narcissism born from it. In a sense, the once shining beacon of human togetherness has since become tarnished, isolating us from each other with our own timelines as opposed to providing connectivity, measuring a person's worth in likes rather than the content of their character, and slowly but surely monetising our identities for the gain of faceless corporations.

For a while I deleted Facebook in an attempt to avoid the increasingly dark baggage that comes with its use, but found myself inexplicably drawn back after missing numerous parties and becoming horrendously out of the loop. I've since spoken to people who reject social media in all its forms, and the one idea that comes up most is the surreal feeling that once you leave, you are now no longer part of a majority, where once you would have been.

The minority who have left, and remain gone, have escaped in a sense. They're now living their lives separate from the machine; riding around on a ship called The Nebuchadnezzar, and played by actors like Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne.

The Matrix shows us a world that is defined by synthetic connection. Each individual is isolated, never to look upon each other with their own eyes, despite being inherently connected through the system they are a part of.

Obviously not, but when we consider just how prescient the Wachowski's game changing The Matrix (1999) actually was, it does make you think that they may have known something we didn't and still don't. They showed us a world dominated by machines that we lost control of long ago, a network of sentience that uses humanity for its own gain and preservation, and one that creates the illusion of social interaction when in reality we're all just lying there motionless in our own little pods.

It's certainly an extreme allegory, and it remains to be seen whether Facebook or its numerous contenders will become sentient or not, but one scene in particular has come to perfectly explain, for me at least, the psychological change that occurred when socialising became less social. If you strip away the bullet time and expertly choreographed Kung Fu, you have a film about what it means to replace reality with something synthetic.

Here, antagonist Cypher has met with resident bad bastard Agent Smith to discuss his reintegration into the Matrix at the expense of his shipmate's lives. They sit in a luxurious restaurant, eating the finest food the city has to offer, sipping on exquisitely aged wine and dressed in designer fashion brands. But of course, this is all synthetic. The room they sit in, the food they eat, and the wine they drink, are all simply lines of code in the matrix, the platform that connects every human being in one unreal reality.

"I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss."

Cypher desires to go back into the Matrix because it is better than his 'real' life. He prefers the synthetic pleasure that the Matrix provides him with to the harsh reality of the real world, and would gladly sacrifice his crew for a chance to once again experience that comfort. It may not be real but it is no doubt better than being chased down and executed by big metal squids.

The steak may be juicy and delicious but it is still a computer programme. It is simply electrical and neurological signals combining to create the sensation of pleasure. The non-existent self-worth, joy and comfort he feels in the Matrix far outweighs the real thing, and in the nine long years Cypher has spent out of the system he has developed a longing for the gratification that the machines once provided him with.

When we consider this idea, and the ideas of The Matrix at large, in relation to the dawning of social media as a way of life, a terrifying possibility reveals itself. If Cypher was once absolutely willing to be taken out of the system, did the synthetic feelings the matrix was sending to his brain eventually replace entirely the feeling of real joy? Did he become so accustomed to the manufactured emotion that actual feelings in the real world became less desirable than the ones he experienced in the Matrix?

As I stated, The Matrix is an extreme allegory for the point I'm trying to make and Facebook isn't sentient and so far hasn't tried to kill me. However, though it may be extreme, it was, without a doubt, incredibly revealing about the 21st-century attitudes towards technology and its integration with real emotion and cognition.

I'm not saying Facebook is trying to enslave you, or drain your life force to power its servers; rather my point is that social media is not a substitute for social interaction. The gratification you feel when that little bubble pops up in the corner of your screen is about as real as Cypher's steak. It may taste good, but it will never be real.