|What's really wrong with social media?|
|Written by L. M. Lloyd|
|Sunday, 23 January 2011 03:42|
Much has been said lately about the 'dangers' of social media. Most of this criticism focuses on the isolation of a society constantly staring at phones and laptops, rather than engaging each other in face to face interactions. While I do agree their are inarguable deleterious consequences sprouting from social media, I do not find isolation to be a convincing argument. Long before people were isolating themselves behind their phone or laptop, they were instead hiding behind their Walkmans and portable TVs. Before that, it was their books and magazines. There is nothing new about hiding behind a wall of content consumption. What is new, is the impression that the content you are consuming is itself a connection to other people. Previously, you could wall yourself away behind your newspaper, but it left you feeling no less starved for human interaction. One was always forced to choose between isolation, or interaction. No, the 'danger' of social media is not in isolation, but rather in how it alters how we interact.
The thing about human interaction, at least in the traditional sense, is that it is inherently unpredictable. No matter what your intention, you cannot control how another person will react, and in a genuine social situation, you have no choice but to witness and deal with that reaction. You might call up a friend to tell them about your new promotion, or go into your favorite café to show off your new girlfriend, but you never know how that will be received. It might be as minor as a disapproving look, or as severe as an embarrassing confrontation, but there is always the risk that something you say or do could elicit unwanted criticism of even derision. In this way, every human interaction teaches us the importance of diplomacy, how far a modicum of humility and tact can go. The more we converse with others, the more we pull out of ourselves, and realize the importance of taking other points of view into consideration. The more conversations you have, the more you interact, the broader and less self-involved your perspective necessarily becomes.
Not so with social media. Social media is less of a conversation, and more of broadcast. It not only encourages a self-involved view, but actually rewards outright narcissism. The savvy social media participant is not having a conversation, they are marketing their personal brand. The entire point is not to converse, to exchange ideas, to interact, but rather to keep your 'followers' up to date with what is going on with you. It isn't even chitchat, it is straight-up personal spam. It is not a medium designed around dialog, like the telephone, email, or even text messages. It is a medium specifically designed to be a way for you to publish your unidirectional statements, and distribute them to your audience. In every way, it has more in common with advertising or performance, than with discourse and interaction.
Now, in and of itself, this would just be annoying, and pose no real threat. Once you combine it, however, with the filtering tools, so integral to social media, you start to have a real problem. See, if once a day, you gathered all your friends together, and asked them to sit silently while you told them everything you thought was important about your life, it would be a miracle if, by the end of the week, one of your friends didn't take you aside and tell you what a huge tool you are. If you walked around your workplace, telling every person in the office whatever you thought made you seem really impressive, by lunchtime the main topic of conversation would be whether you are insane, or just an unbelievable jackass. If you sent out hourly emails to everyone in your address book, letting them know what you were up to, it wouldn't be more than a few minutes after the first one was sent, before someone would reply asking you why you don't have anything better to do than fill up their inbox, with your mundane crap? That is the nature of interaction, both parties are present and engaged, so each statement requires a response of some form.
Not so in social media. Thanks to the various filtering tools, responding is not only optional, but actually requires more effort than ignoring. In a genuine interaction, completely ignoring a statement, is the strongest possible response. It is impossible, in a traditional conversation, to just pretend someone didn't say something. To offer no response at all, is tantamount to a total rejection of what was said. However, in the social media world, it is not only possible, but by far the norm, to let practically every word said by your hundreds of 'friends' go silently unanswered. For that matter, it is only a click of a button to make sure you never even see anything your 'friend' says, naturally unbeknownst to them. Of course it works both ways as well. If you do take the time to respond to your 'friend', and they don't like what they hear, it is far simpler for them to just click that little remove button, than it is for them to bother confronting your response.
The result, is to turn every participant into a performer up on a stage. They know how many people the theater seats, but with the lights in their eyes, they can't really see how many seats are full. So, they just play to the crowd like the house is packed every night, and all they ever hear is the sound of applause. After all, even if someone does have the bad manners to heckle them, it won't be but an instant before the ushers quietly remove them from the theater. Some performances might get more applause than others, but the performer never knows if that is because they're bombing, or if the house is just empty that show. What they can be absolutely sure of, however, is that at no point will anyone come up out of the audience, take the stage, and steal the show. It is their theater, and they get to control who does and doesn't get a seat. Thus, you have the perfect environment for even the must humble man's ego to run out of control, and for those who tend toward narcissism to begin with, it is like lighting and fire with gasoline. It is a medium which can't help but bring out the worst grandstanding in all of us.
No, isolation isn't the problem. In fact, social media leaves me wishing we were all becoming isolated islands of loneliness, because it is actually turning us into something far worse, insecure little attention whores. I am reminded by a stanza of a Laurie Anderson song from the '80s, which seems quite fitting to end with, and which comes to my mind every time I think about social media.
I dreamed there was an island, that rose up from the sea. And everybody on the island, was somebody from TV. And there was a beautiful view, but nobody could see. Cause everybody on the island, was saying: Look ot me! Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!
|Last Updated ( Wednesday, 16 February 2011 06:54 )|
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