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.

Tumblr isn’t social media.

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.

4 thoughts on “Social

  1. I’ll be entirely honest; I only really use Twitter because it is the most likely medium through which people will actually observe what I have to say. Which is the same way I felt about Livejournal, really. I’ve yet to have ANY actual affection for any blogging service, because I don’t go to them looking for their objective qualities; they are intermediaries and nothing more. I use Dreamwidth for long-format things pretty much solely because they don’t fit in the constraints of a Twitter post, and I use Twitter solely because people actually use it.

    But at the same time, I cannot deny the power of social media to reinforce my self-esteem… or wreck it, as the case may be. The gamification of ‘favorites’ and ‘retweets’ is primally satisfying in a way I find a little unsettling at times; when you have fairly serious abandonment issues, concrete reminders of ‘someone is paying attention to me’ are a godsend. At the same time, though, it’s just as crushing to write something long-form and involved that you’ve put a bunch of effort into and get… nothing. Or worse, a comment that sums up to ‘you’re wrong about this.’ Or, y’know, just garden-variety trolling, which thank god is largely confined to my youtube channel where I can ignore it.

    I suppose my answer is ‘my relationship to these systems is complicated, but in the absence of better ways to combat my anxieties about acceptance they are the only option I have.’ Which is kind of a bummer answer, but there you have it.

    1. Many times, I feel like Twitter is the foot-in-the-door. It’s become the central platform I was hoping Google Wave would be, back before… well… new Google.

      I like the point that you make here about blogging services being intermediaries. The platform itself isn’t what’s important; the ability to communicate with others is what matters. That’s really important to stress, and I probably didn’t spend enough time on that thought as I should have. I skipped past it in favor of trying to set up the idea that different platforms enable — or impede — different kinds of communication, and so far none of the big platforms have really captured what I’d like in a communications service.

      So, let’s ask! What are the features that you’d want in a tool for sharing your ideas with the world? Are you after more one-on-one sharing, or more broadcasting? What’s your ideal communication medium look like?

      1. Sadly my ideal communication medium would resemble something akin to what Google+ promised to be: perfect and simple outward-bound filtering; long or short form posts as needed; easy commenting and/or marking something as having been seen (like button, +1, etc). And enough people using it to have actual interaction with others (specifically people I want to interact with regularly), and have a generous amount of content, without being swamped by too much.

        I would say, I also joined up with Dreamwidth (at least the more recent attempt at using it again) because when I have longform thoughts, I do rather want a space to put it that’s already got an easy way to comment and keep track of other’s posts too. Trying to set up my own blog somewhere might still be something I’d do for some things, but I’d rather have, as Bea mentioned, some sort of ‘hey I read this’ feedback. (Dreamwidth is not /as/ optimal for that either, really. There’s no shorthand options that involve not leaving a full-text comment–as much as ‘likes’ get gameified and abused, I feel they still have a utility. )

        So yeah. I’m not going to quit Twitter either, because I’m terrible at normally reaching out to communicate with people, and the point-to-point style of Instant Messenging only pings my social anxieties most of the time, aside from a /very/ small set of people. Twitter et al provides at least regular communication even if most of it is /broadcasting/–an important aspect of getting to know people better is seeing what people say when they have an audience, rather than a conversation. For me personally–introverted and anxious about initiating contact or keeping up with a social group–something /like/ this is useful to make me feel connected and up-to-date on my chosen community. I keep coming back to Twitter because it’s the /type/ of communication desired even if the platform itself is poorly adapted to such. Blogs are another type, group chats and/or IRC channels another. Different communication types hold different values for different people, too. Which is I think what you’re trying to say here, too.

      2. The thing is, I want both one-on-one AND wider broadcasting, but the trick is finding services dedicated to those specifically, as opposed to the more spreadshot approach most services do. There’s a sort of… fetishization, I think, of the ‘all-in-one’ model for a lot of platforms. Everybody wants to be Apple, where you’re selling your clientele a lifestyle as much as you are a service.

        The issue is thus not so much that services aren’t adequate, but that they’re -merely- adequate. They do as much as POSSIBLE, up to the minimum standard, to try and hit as many market groupings as possible. And long-term I don’t see that being quite as viable as it’s been here, in the early days of social media(and yes, it is still early days on a larger cultural level, which has yet to fully-adapt to the computer overtaking the TV as the central appliance of a home).

        Which is all a roundabout way of saying I need one service that’s really really good at letting me get one-on-one personal time, and another service that’s really really good at getting my larger creative works into full view. Right now, I’m kind of using the ‘broadcasting’ platform for keeping in touch with friends(Twitter, and the more personal platform for my long-form stuff(Dreamwidth), which is… exactly backwards.

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