Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Against Social Media

Since New Year's I've been having increasing doubts about the so-called social media. I include under this heading Twitter, blogging, YouTube and, of course, Facebook, but I think I can also offer a more functional definition. A website is part of the social media if it allows people to post, comment, and evaluate ("like", etc.) content as they please, with no editorial oversight. (A "moderated" forum or comment field does not count as editorial oversight.) Social media also implies an ability to track views. That is, when writing (or filming) for social media you are making a unilateral decision to express yourself, and will receive feedback (or not) in real time. Your audience's interest in your ideas is known to you, in an important sense, immediately.

When I say I am "against" social media, this is the sort of thing I'm thinking of. I've come to my low opinion of it honestly, of course. This blog is very much a social media experience, and until a few months ago I was also an avid twit. There are number of blogs that I've at one time or another regularly commented on—indeed, I got my start in the blogosphere as a commenter on the blog of my favorite poet. I had a Facebook account for about a week at the very beginning, but something about it immediately put me off. I've tried Reddit and have, albeit very rarely, posted comments in the articles of news websites. I've also contributed to Wikipedia. In short, I know what I'm talking about.

What I've come to realize is that writing for an audience that is immediately present undermines my ability to finish a thought. We talked about this here at RSL a few years ago, when Oliver Reichenstein brought Kleist's essay on "The Gradual Perfection of Thought while Speaking" to my attention. My ideas are forming mainly to engage with what is "in the talk" (as Heidegger might put it) at the moment, not to make a more or less permanent contribution to the totality of what is known. I find myself writing and posting and then "bracing" myself for the reaction. I must confess I am bracing myself even as I write. That must have consequences for my style, and it has certainly had consequences for my thinking.

Back in the days of the Snowden exposure, I compared the feeling of being watched by the NSA to living in George Orwell's dystopian 1984. The most effective surveillance, however, is not that of the state but that of our fellow citizens. There's nothing really wrong with being accountable to our fellow humans, of course. The point is just to give each other some privacy. Social media, I fear, is eroding that privacy. In 1984, we should remember, "Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull."

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