The Case for Social Media
An Amatuer Rant/Essay.
or a long time, I’ve railed on social media websites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. These sites–particularly Facebook–have become ingrained in the social lives of young adults and have even become some of the main tools of communication in lieu of phone conversations, e-mails, and the like. By no means am I a primitivist; I don’t decry the lost art of the handwritten letter nor do I wish for “simpler times,” as is often the case when it comes to discussions about the growth of social media.
In fact, I’d like to make a case for them.
First, though, I think it’s important to draw attention to some of the medium’s criticisms. The decrease of direct communication in lieu of an increase of information is fairly evident to anyone who’s paying attention. It’s extremely easy to find information on just about anything and it’s easy to find someone who’s strongly dedicated to it. Blogs themselves are the most immediate example of this phenomena, though Facebook and Twitter are both jumping into that field (Facebook with their ‘communities’ based around ‘likes’ and Twitter with trending topics), but it’s much harder to find a discussion happening about these things. How many comments are there on the standard blog posts? And how often are those comments replied to by the author? How many Twitter updates are nothing more than updates on the user’s life?
While this may quickly lead to the conclusion that discussion and conversation are quickly heading the way of the dodo and the written letter, it’s a conclusion I would disagree with. I contend that the art of conversation is simply changing into something dramatically different. Conversation has always been the sharing of ideas between two people, at its very base. Social Media enables this sharing of ideas at such a crazy efficient level that it quickly becomes an over-whelming amount of information. The sheer volume leads quickly to a lack of editorial control, which is the very thing that is so often bemoaned. This isn’t to be feared however, as a wealth of ideas is what leads to innovation.
Take music blogs. Largely speaking, they’re written by people who love music and want to share it as openly as they can. Sure there’s competition for ‘firsties!’ and hits on hypem, but the recent development of shuffler.fm (a random music blog shuffling service) shows that there are thousands of people about a million different kinds of music writing for less than fifty hits a day just because they want to. They write about music that otherwise would otherwise get virtually no exposure. This idea extends to other social media services, though more abstractly. Twitter and Facebook can often be a means to learning about news, politics, viewpoints far from your own. And if music blogs are any indication, no one will quite share your exact ideas.
As for editorial control, it leads to a uniformity of ideas which limits innovation. After all an editor by his very nature has to make a choice about what’s better than something else, even if it’s a completely subjective medium. An editor controls information, which leads to a bottleneck. The destruction of this bottleneck has lead to an absolute explosion of information.
Yes, some of it is useless and frankly idiotic, but I contend that what is gained is greater than what is lost. This is because the explosion has lead to greater connection between previously disparate communities, which become larger and more fully-formed than limited information allowed. Facebook’s communities system comes off as a cheap marketing tool, but used right, it can actually pull together a wide range of people. From focused contests and give-aways that are much more intensely personal and focused to a more direct means of seeing who a person is (twitter is perfect for this, in a lot of ways), an artist or personality simply has a much more direct line of communication to a singular person.
Still this leads the ‘discussion’ aspect a little unanswered. Social media has undoubtedly lead to an increased flow of ideas, but it’s often from a single point thrown into a web of ideas that the user must then sort through. But how is this different from how it’s always been? Sure, there were Letters to the Editor and maybe a response, but in print there wasn’t much more than that. Maybe an editor forced the content to be more intellectual and more informed, but there’s content that just as–if not moreso–intellectual and informed floating freely in the social media web. In fact the mediums with editors are often now less informative (see: cable news) than sharper web content.
It simply isn’t about the overall product, but about the individual bits that make it up. Twitter isn’t killing communication, it’s simply an extension of something that was already happening. There were always people who said stupid, inane, and useless things and there were always people that shared deep, insights and articles. And it was always up to the individual as to who they wished to focus on. And it was always up to the individual as to how hard they would look for the better content.
Originally the tagline for this blog was ‘addding to the cacophony,’ because I felt like that’s what I was doing. It’s what inspired the name. The idea that I really wasn’t adding anything to the overall infrastructure of the information pipeline–I was just clunking it up. But really, there isn’t a pipeline or anything of the sort. It’s a giant web and I’ve simply carved out my own corner.