I have a real love-hate relationship with social media.
It’s not just “social media” in their current incarnations, though I confess I’m not a huge fan. Facebook’s privacy model is, effectively, “we don’t want you to have any.” This from the man who bought four houses close to his in order to, and I quote, “have a little privacy.” Even Business Insider couldn’t help but note the irony of this decision. They’ve intentionally manipulated the data feeds of users to modify their emotional states, which I think passes beyond “irritation” and well into “pants-shittingly terrifying.” I spend enough energy on my emotional states as it is; I don’t need the tools on which I rely to communicate with people trying to drag me down. Neither of these points, by the way, should overshadow the core problem of Facebook, which is that they’re forever looking for new ways to get involved in your life, up to and including wanting to listen to you through your phone. But this isn’t healthy and I want no part of it.
Google, of course, is in the process of doing everything it can to prove that it doesn’t get social. Google+, Page’s attempt to keep up with the Zuckerbergs, is largely credited with kicking off the Nymwars because of its insistence on tying people inextricably to their government aliases. Of course, being a company full of engineers, it’s not too surprising to discover that they got a few things wrong. But all of this can’t possibly matter soon, because G+ is being split into three products, one of which has gone to great lengths becoming a lot less useful. Google’s successfully turned me from a convert and a zealot to somebody salivating over the prospect that Ubuntu or Mozilla will bring their phones to America so I can get rid of my Gmail account once and for all.
No, Apple is not an alternative to Google in this case.
Twitter probably could get an entire post of its own, but I have a couple of high-level complaints about the service. The first is that one-hundred-forty characters is just not enough to talk about anything. It’s about enough to drop a casual thought, but not enough to expound much upon an idea, and certainly not enough to have a dialogue of any real depth. Conversations with people of opposing viewpoints is hard enough even when that conversation is long-form. Twitter’s length mandates that everything be reduced to a soundbite. Meanwhile, Twitter provides almost no feed management tools, so trying to follow anything is akin to drinking from the firehose. Even with a well-curated list, there’s too much to read and too little to think about. All of this is further compounded by the fact that Twitter has no internal concept of an outbound filter. If I want to post thoughts to some users but not others, I have to manage multiple accounts to do that, but Twitter doesn’t really support it. “It works in the app” isn’t an answer.
Even beyond the individual technologies of social media, though, I have a problem with the idea of social media. The very nature of the concept encourages sharing in the moment, which is great if what you want to share can be easily digested. It’s great for letting us show the world what’s going on right now, but in the truest Heisenbergian sense, that seems to keep us from being able to make sense of where we’ve been or where we’re going. The race to stay relevant, to stay in front of people, to get some measure of validation for our behaviors, we can’t really take the time to step back and contextualize our actions. We don’t get to stop and think about what we’re saying and doing, because there’s this implicit pressure to keep talking, to keep speaking, just to stay in the conversation.
So, you’d think I’d be happier about longer-form exchanges of the sort that LiveJournal or Dreamwidth encourage. And true to form, you’d be right. I much prefer the measured pace of a lengthy conversation. I want detailed conversations constructed for analysis. I like the ability to string together a coherent point, decorate it with links to supporting evidence, and generally express myself in longer ways. I suspect this is a side-effect of being a writer; I can talk for ages and ages about almost anything if given a chance.
Really, the reason I didn’t go to Dreamwidth when my social circle underwent a diaspora from LJ is specifically that I was a young punk full of piss and vinegar and I was more interested in setting up a distributed hosting framework than I was in helping consolidate my social circle after a difficult transition away from LiveJournal. This usually isn’t where I put the quotation, but “I was young and foolish then; I feel old and foolish now.” Of course, these days I tell myself that my reasons for staying off Dreamwidth are still true, that I want a place for people to read what I’m writing alongside ways to support my creative work alongside a place to babble semi-coherently about whatever topic happens to come to mind… but I’m getting better about posting links to my articles from to my Dreamwidth account.
And yet, isn’t a blog a form of social media? Doesn’t what I’m doing right now —writing a post on my blog, hoping you’ll read, process, and respond — count? How is this different? Well, it’s not, in the abstract sense of social media as an attempt to communicate with other people using technology as an intermediary. I write blog posts for much the same reason that I write novels, talk with my friends, and dream of immortality. I want to share that which is inside me, to feel a connection with the people around me and the world that they’ve created. I don’t want to lose that sensation. And so for all that I complain about the forms that social media have taken, I understand them and I endorse them. I can only ask that people realize the limitations of the tools that they use, but I can’t ask anyone to use new tools. I want to make it easy for people to see what I have to say, to encourage people to explore the worlds that I make, and to participate in the madness and delight that is the inside of my head.
I started this post with a vague desire to end it by announcing my dissolution from social media, but I can’t. It’s too useful, even as I find many aspects of it distasteful. I vacillate regularly on whether I should take my Twitter account public, create a public Twitter account for this blog, or keep my head down. I wonder about ways to get more exposure that don’t compromise my values or my ideals. I wonder about other topics I should be covering and whether trying to shove every information stream into the same source is more or less helpful for those trying to read what I write. I have no answers; I just have interesting questions, and a vague nausea that nobody’s really paying attention anyway.
What do you think? What do you want out of your social media? What are you actually getting? Are those two things the same, and should they be? If you use more than one platform, what does each give you that others don’t? What platforms have I not considered, and how valuable do you find them?
No-one, having lit a lamp, puts it under a basket.