Sunday, April 17, 2011

Social Media

Recently I began following a site dedicated to discussing social media. On my last visit I encountered an effusive post encouraging readers to "Be Real and Be Credible." It ended with the following call to action:
"The days of talking at people are over. It’s time to start talking with people. In order to do that, we have to take down our walls, step out from behind the desk and podium and (in the wise words of an MTV series) 'start getting real.' It’s time to show our humanness.

(Personally, I would much rather talk with someone than post 140 character summations of my eating habits or current status in the coffee machine queue.) The core message of this post seemed to be, based on a survey of college students,that "scholarly" posts are less palatable and human than squibs that describe yesterday's lunch buffet. My response, which I hoped would elicit a riposte, was as follows: "There is something troubling about this line of reasoning, or I am missing a point. Is the point that saying something intelligent or using multi-syllable words is 'talking down' or pontificating? My biggest complaint with social media is its tendancy to oversimplify, or default to plainly vacuous commentary. I do not equate simplicity or banality with humanness." No responses thus far, but I am hoping for some. Honestly, this is not a cheap shot at social media. I am just not sure what it is supposed to accomplish. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had ceased putting posts on Facebook. I still have a personal Twitter account, but I am beginning to feel much the same way about it. Before putting it on hiatus too, I am going to explore my use further.

I recently read an essay in the book Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? that concluded the Internet is facilitating a "shift from information scarcity and low levels of interpersonal interaction to an environment of information abundance and high levels of interaction and feedback." I concur, to the extent that we are awash in information and opportunities for interaction and feedback. I can find enormous quantities of information, and often I feel like I know bits about many things. Have information access and social media vehicles improved the content of our discourse? A surfeit of information enhanced my knowledge, to borrow a thought from T.S. Eliot? That remains to be seen. While reading an essay on the poet Wallace Stevens reflecting his empathy with an observation by Henry James, I identified the type of satisfaction I have not achieved from social media, and more generally from my reading and research experiences on the Internet:

"To live in the world of creation-to get into it and stay in it -to frequent it and haunt it-to think intensely and fruitfully-to woo combination and inspiration into being by a depth and continuity of attention and meditation-this is the only thing" I am looking for that "thing" using the Internet, and while dissatisfied with the results to date I continue the search.

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