On Social Media

30 Jun

I know.  I haven’t written shit in a week.  Newsflash: there’s nothing to write about.  I’m as bored as you are.

So I’ve spent some of my usual reading-Saints-stuff-and-maybe-writing-about-it time this week on twitter.  Ok, yeah, I do that every day anyway.  Whatever.  Something happened the other day that got me thinking, and I feel the need to write about it, and it’s only marginally Saints-related, and it’s going to be long as shit, and you’ve been warned.

Because nothing else was going on, I joined the fray following Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act.  (This is not going to be about politics.  I promise.)  As usual, I ruffled a few feathers, lost a few followers, and had a great time of it.  But something new happened – something I haven’t experienced before.  A follower felt the need not only to leave, but to show his ass and slam the door on the way out.  That fucker was some LSU baseball player named Chris Crane.

Of course, when he announced his exit to the world, I was amused, and I followed with a little sophomoric humor and, yes, a little trolling (credit to Chris, he didn’t really bite).  But it reminded me of this YouTube video from @endlessjoe (warning: it’s nearly a year old), in which he discusses how social media is “rewiring us for the worse.”  I went back and watched it again, remembering the bit about vanity.

Joe discusses his view of some social media, particularly Tumblr and Facebook, as just a hollow persona-machine, a place where people are shallowly defined by their interests and where originality is nearly absent.  The Chris Crane Exit brought it back for me, because his exit was just that – shallow, vain – and he announced it as if I was supposed to give a shit that he didn’t like me.

But watching Joe’s video now, I realize that I don’t agree with it as much as I did when I first found it (I’m not sure how that happened – probably via twitter).  This, for all intents and purposes, is my response.

See, I think Joe’s focused too much on the wrong kinds of social media.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re interconnected in an irreparable fashion – here I am on a blog which was originally created as a response to a guy on a Falcons message board, talking about Facebook and Tumblr in response to a YouTube video I found via Twitter.  However, there’s an inherent problem with some of them – specifically Tumblr and Facebook – that I think differentiates them from the blogosphere and Twitter (and whatever may be to come) in a very important way.

In fact, I’d argue that Facebook itself isn’t even “social media” as we now know it.

The greatest thing about social media, and what defines it in my opinion, is the connections it creates.  On Twitter I interact on a daily basis with people I would never have known existed without this platform.  Hundreds of people will read these words, all but 3 or 4 of whom would never have known I existed without the Angry Who Dat.  Facebook doesn’t do that.  It doesn’t introduce the reader to new things.

That’s why Facebook is stagnant.  It’s dead in the water, an internet hell of MS Paint creations espousing urban legends and political statements, baby pictures, celebrity quotes, and Nickelback lyrics.  It’s a place where, as the cliché goes, you learn to hate the people you love.  And there’s the issue.  The people on Facebook are people that you’ve met elsewhere – they’re family, friends, guys you served with in the military, coworkers, and business associates.  There is no new connection on Facebook, and that devalues the platform itself as a “social medium.”

Internet message boards, which predate YouTube and Twitter and Facebook, are coming to the same dead-end.  The ability of all to instantly respond to any post, whether qualified or not, whether intelligent or not, whether productive or not, damages any chance of real originality.  Anything that goes against the grain, that’s truly original, is destroyed by the dissenting masses in real time – and any system of “I like this/I don’t like this” voting simply quantifies that destruction of creativity and streamlines the herd mentality into a one-click, zero-effort machine against real thought.

Social media is something we are beginning to take for granted.  I was born on the very tail end of Generation X, and as a whole we’ve seen the way people interact with one another on a daily basis change in ways nobody could have imagined.  The generation to follow – my teenage sister-in-law is a shining example – are even further acclimated, because they have never known anything else.  Her friends, even when face to face, interact by huddling together in a circle of phones and thumbs, interacting on their machines in the presence of untold virtual “others”.

And I’m writing this to say that overall, this is a good thing.

In the video, Joe opines that perhaps some day soon, a movement will come along to disconnect, to experience the world first-hand once again, instead of doing so through the Internet.  I would strongly disagree – I think the change, for good or bad, is irreparable.  But on some platforms, and I would include Twitter, originality is rewarded.  The mindless who retweet or agree with the masses without any real thought or original ideas are mocked mercilessly.  The very randomness of connections (who is he replying to? Click. Ha, that’s funny. Follow) constantly changes the experience for the individual who wants to hear something new.

But it’s not without its flaws.  Our friend Chris Crane illustrates that point beautifully.  Between jabs, I asked the serious question, “Why did you follow me in the first place?”  The answer?  Paraphrasing, “My cousin thought you were funny, and because you were blocked by some Falcons players, but then you made that comment about Barack.”

Oh, so it wasn’t the espousing of political opinions that Chris disliked, it was the particular opinion I offered.

This problem exists in the real world, too, however.  Chris probably doesn’t watch news anywhere but Fox, because (it appears) that’s where his opinions are agreed with.  For the entire existence of humankind, the very nature of our being leads us to block out the thoughts of those who dissent.  Joe speaks of the hipster girl who turns out to be an idiot – he’s illustrating my point right there.  Our interaction online is not any different than our interaction in the real world.  It has become part of the real world, for better or worse, and when you get right down to it, people aren’t any different online than they are in person.

Are there posers?  Online personas?  Sure.  In a way, mine is one.  I’m honest with every word I write, but the Angry Who Dat isn’t my entire personality.  It’s one part of me, a part I’m passionate about, a part I enjoy expressing to others.  That doesn’t mean I’m not real.  It means that’s what I choose to present to you.  That’s an improvement on the hipster girl who is stupid – I’m not pretending to be someone I’m not, I’m offering only this side of me for entertainment and laughs – and when I slip up and let something else in, such as politics, the person censoring me is the viewer, or follower, or reader – not the speaker.

So whose fault is that?  Nobody’s, I say.  Social media just isn’t done evolving.  It’s become more and more creative as the internet changes, not less.  It’s become more and more connective, not less.  It’s up to us to embrace those changes and those new ideas, and that is a challenge that has existed for humanity far longer than social media has been a part of our lives.

And while it’s not changing us, it sometimes does bring the worst to light.  I’ll accept that.  For good or bad, it’s bringing our personalities and our life experiences to more and more people.  It’s globalism on the micro scale, within our communities of common interest.  Because common interests may not define us, Joe, but they damn sure define our relationships and our communities.

I can’t wait to see what’s coming in another decade, but I embrace the social media revolution, and I believe (and hope) that no movement is on the way to “unplug”.  I truly believe my life is richer with the internet than it would be without.  Joe says we’re too busy trying to figure out how to share to live life itself.  There is some truth in that – when I go on a cruise, my phone stays at home.  That’s my time, not yours.

However, when I sit my Spanish 201 night class, and banally tweet about the goofy dude in the front row that’s prolonging class with his dumb stories to the professor, and a few people retweet, or reply with “yeah, I’ve been there,” we’ve taken this inane, silly experience that means nothing in the grand scheme of things, and turned it into a communal experience.  I’m living that moment whether I tweet about it or not; but when I tweet about it, I’m living it with others who have experienced the same thing – people who I’d never have connected with otherwise.

As a Saints fan, there are two moments that are absolutely engraved into my memory.  I’ll never forget them.  I was in the Superdome for both of them, and I consider myself lucky to have felt them in person.

A playoff game gets off to a ridiculous start.  We’re killing these guys, we’re going to win our first playoff game ever.  The joy is palpable.  All the cheese of an early-2000’s football game is present – terrible rap songs, YMCA, two-handed high fives.  Fantastic stuff.  And then, in the fourth quarter, the old Saints come back.  Flash forward to a minute or so left, we’re up by 3, punting, and goddamnit, everyone in that building knows the game is about to be lost.

And then Hakim drops the ball, and 30 years of persistent frustration and pessimism are gone, and we celebrate.  There is a God after all.

We all know the other story.  We thought we’d lost our football team along with our entire fucking gulf coast.  Somehow, we opened that Dome back up to a full house, we screamed at U2, we cried at that cheesy fucking Green Day song that still makes us cry, and we cheered our heads off as our defense stopped the rushing MACHINE that was the Falcons offense in three downs, damn near getting a turnover.

And then Steve Gleason came through.  Absolute madness.  One of the great things about that video is the commentators having enough awareness of the situation to just shut up and let the crowd be heard, screaming in absolute joy.

I remember both of those moments not for the individual pain that they helped to heal, not for the exhiliaration or the happiness or the tears.  I remember them because community was so palpable.  It wasn’t about what I felt as much as it was about feeling it with 70,000 other people who had gone through all the same things I had.

That’s why social media isn’t going away, Joe.  That’s why we’ll never disconnect.  We can choose to promote originality over banality, and humor over cynicism.  Or we can stick to Facebook and embrace the wasteland of copy-paste and share and MS Paint misquotes.  No matter what, human nature is to crave the community experience, whether it involves 70,000 people in a football stadium, or 5 people on Twitter.

Sharing your experience doesn’t have to keep you from experiencing it yourself.  It can make the experience richer, more memorable.

Like it or not, that’s the world we have to look forward to.

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One Response to “On Social Media”

  1. Himself July 2, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    Easy for you to say.

    So…want to argue over Obamacare?

Comments are closed.