Thursday, August 4, 2016

Woe is Social Media

A lot of good has been said about social media, such as how it gives people hope of a democratic voice for the masses, hope that every single one of us can have an opinion and be heard. OK. But surely there is some bad to such media, too.

After all, doesn’t every technology, no matter how modern, also have a downside? Like, say, that “new, exciting” educational resource of my youth: television. It was great for bringing education down from boring blackboards to action-filled screens, and for showing us the plight of the poor children in India—but it also turned us into boobs and idiots. We started with such hopes: When I was a boy channel 13, the highest number on the TV dial, was reserved to be the educational channel. Now we have so many channels we need a handheld device—there’s too many numbers to fit around a knob—but we still don’t have a government education channel.

Incidentally, when I was a boy, back when we still had dials, a friend of the family had one of the first remote channel changers: We called it a “(channel) clicker.” It had to go “click” because it operated without batteries… using the principle of a tuning fork.

Today everyone knows there’s a lot of dysfunction in America —yes, I’m thinking of the presidential election primaries—but only this week have I started to think critically about the role of social media in all this, both personal and political.

Needless to say, I realize social media is not the hot kinetic cause of our woe; after all, smarter folks than I have examined the various causes of our election shame. And yet I can’t say the effect of social media is absolute zero, either.

By the way, as for realizing America’s decline, my favorite resource is A Time to Start Thinking by a British observer living here: I was so impressed at first, but then dismayed to realize that it wasn’t even written by a U.S. citizen, but then excited again to think that at least it was on sale here on our continent—even if the average rich Yankee remains in denial. I blogged a book report back in May 2015 archived as America Down the Chute.

Criticizing social media can be done at two levels: the personal, which is fascinating, like spiral chocolate dessert, and the political, which is less so. Like meat and potatoes.

Politics first: As a schoolteacher said in David Gerrold’s Chtorr Wars epic, “the definition of citizenship is a willingness to be uncomfortable.” Or as William Blake put it in his poem Jerusalem, “I shall not cease from mental fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand…” Blake seems to prioritize the inner fight, (being uncomfortable) over action (like swinging a sword or a pen) By the way, the song version of the poem is beautiful, here is a link.

Some fellow blogged that he thought the reason U.S. citizens are in a bad way, is…in my own words: Because we can’t handle the discomfort of mentally trying on someone else’s shoes, or sitting in stillness with strange ideas. Instead we demonize, without compromise. And we do this by “communicating” in our social media, where it’s hard to do nuance, hard to do empathy; easy to do outbursts and outrage. Easy to post “crazy link-bait” to get attention.

As the experts have noticed, all across America, there’s this net of social media. What can a person do? Easy: stick to normal media. The slow, thoughtful kind. Which has personal benefits.

Those benefits had me fascinated this week in an essay by Pavlina—I have his blog bookmarked. He posted about going a year without sending or receiving social media. (Link) Pavlina stopped cold turkey: Suddenly he wasn’t taking so many photographs, merely a few photos he liked—not what others would like to see. He came to realize that he no longer had to train his mind to be thinking daily about what he could post, but could relax, and think about what he pleased. And no more consuming empty calories of social media. No more, as he put it, “empty treadmill.” His life was his.

Another blogger I’ve bookmarked is Derek Silver, “the Internet’s Ann Landers.” In his post, Disconnect, (link) he writes that getting off media helped his art. He says, “Silence is a great canvas for your thoughts.”

I suspect sound bite comments and tweets are like what you see in a yellow striped Cliff’s (Cole’s) Notes: Not enough to “free your mind.” So then “the rest” won’t follow. (k.d. Lang)

Here’s my conclusion of the week: Not only is television and the world wide web a mixed blessing, but so is social media… contributing to so many Americans believing in election craziness.

Sean Crawford
Calgary, 2016

~Sorry, I didn’t link to Charlotte Church’s version of Jerusalem on Youtube because I don’t like how on the tube she sings more “operatic” than on her CD. But OK, for Charlotte fans, here she sings I Vow to Thee My Country. I suppose the beaches shown are in Wales, a land known for fine beaches, such as the beach in The Prisoner.

 A Welsh farm boy I knew in Canada told me he sang I Vow as his school song, and when he saw my CD cover of Charlotte he could tell she was Welsh. On BBC’s Torchwood the agents, based in Cardiff, walk past a Charlotte Church lookalike contest.

~My favorite blog/essay site by Scott Berkun has a post this week,  Staying Sane in an Insane World. He has commenters who link, and his piece includes links to five essays by experts.

Update: Here's a guy who really doesn't like his social media.

Lengthy Sidebar: If I reference two successful bloggers, then it’s not to downplay my own thoughts, not like how a modest man may make up a nice quote and then attribute it to the wisdom of the ancient Chinese or aboriginal elders. No, it’s because I don’t directly know enough—I don’t have social media, just as I don’t have the money for cable TV, rabbit ears or even tinfoil on my TV set.

As for that “some fellow blogged…” well, I have no intention of referencing him. Even though he’s a technology geek. “But wait!” someone cries. “Aren’t bloggers a bunch of idealistic helpful folks, sharing their knowledge that “wants to be free”? No. Not every computer guy is idealistic. How about those California hackers who set up the Great Firewall of China? By setting the Chinese up for Nineteen Eighty-four, they have surely added decades, generations, to the evil existence of communism. For money. I wonder whether or not those hackers are still welcome at Silicon Valley nerd-millionaire parties.

As for that “fellow” he reminds me of a sad prison story, a story that I suppose happens every year:

A young criminal, with the idealism of youth, gets sent to the penitentiary. He feels lost. How fortunate that a strong friendly older convict keeps being so helpful, keeps bringing little snacks and things to the young man, with a cheery glint in his eye. Then—shock!—the old con’s face contorts into an angry Mr. Hyde: He wrestles the young man down. “You owe me!” And if another con tries to stop the forced sexual “favor”? “He owes me!” Needless to say, the young man had not been told of the secret price of all the snacks. Not fair.

Yes, I know: If criminals were capable of being fair, then they would be capable of being among us in society, and they would be able to build a fair and just society behind their prison walls. Like we would as air force P.O.W.s in Germany.

I don’t mind when, say, the New York Times, in a polite impersonal manner, inflicts the tiny shock of saying, “You have used up your ten free articles for this month.” The old “read our newspaper free on the web” model has not proved sustainable. I always knew it couldn’t last.

But when “that fellow,” with his “free” blog sneakily changes into an ugly Mr. Hyde— with a sudden shocking disrespect! ...just for money, then I have nothing but contempt. Looking back, I guess the way he inflicts swear words on the public could have tipped me off as to his inner character. Sure, we all want money, but there is polite, and then there’s disgusting.

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