‘People like seeing their friends online’ is a line from The Social Network; one of my favourite Fincher films, which is saying something. I’m old enough to remember the heady days of discovering Bebo. Suddenly I was on the internet, and a whole new form of socialising opened up to me. The novelty of it; what wallpaper would I use, which photos would I use…all became pressing concerns…Getting tagged in a photo was manna for the soul, or so I thought. Self absorption is the preserve of youth, or should be anyway. Yet here I am in my thirties still talking about myself online.
Most, like me, are old enough now to have seen social media grow and mutate right in front of their eyes. Yet when I started uploading photos of myself and listing my favourite bands, I didn’t envisage it morphing into this, did you? What started as a wondrous foray into that world, akin to Charlie and the gang arriving in Wonka’s garden of desserts and all things indulgent, has turned into the dark, fear and panic laden descent down the terrifying tunnel.
Yet, whilst most decry social media in some shape or form, we all mostly use it, so how can I square that circle? I am becoming more and more uncomfortable with social media, and my engagement with it. Although I like the odd humble brag about my running on insta, so there’s that! Has the horse bolted? Is it too late to have a conversation about its ever engulfing influence on our world and our discourse.
What’s the problem?
Like most aspects of our society The Pandemic has crystallised the vulnerabilities social media is exposing. We are stuck living life in and out of lockdowns, with our frustration and anger readily palpable. Yet what to do when placed in a dire situation, with nobody to blame for it? Yep, take your anger online and squabble with some random lunatic.
I went through a bad phase of doing so. Squabbling with people who had no interest in discussing things fairly. People who just wanted to belittle and demean anyone they wanted to (see teacher hate blog entry). Whenever an inflammatory article was posted, or rather a misleading headline, the crows would assemble ready to squawk, and I was one of ’em. What was I doing? A form of self harm I guess.
Thankfully I decided to take a book from the shelf and immerse myself in a world of fiction, a grand time to enter a parallel realm. My perusal of idiocy is at end, and in good time too. My foolish foray got me thinking though, has the online social world gotten caustic in the last year. Was it ever thus? What do I want my part in it to be?
Rabbit Hole to a Squalid Land
It appears to me things are descending down the rabbit hole at apace. Before Corona I was able to minimise the extreme and unsettling views of some online to a tiny subset of our world. Which has been in existence in our physical world eternally anyhow. Except now, given we must remain at home, the online social world is our main source of connectedness. Whilst connectedness is to be savoured at the minute (thank God for facetime), we are walking a tightrope.
With politicians unable to meet people face to face, they are getting their ‘word from the ground’ from a world where views are embittered, extreme and entrenched. Social media is actually shaping policy now; no longer the preserve for a minority of a few irate, ranting individuals.
Word on the ground at the minute is vitriolic, vehement stuff as highlighted above. We are all coping in our own way, some better than others. We are seeking to put meaning on something that makes no sense. There is nobody to blame; so who can we lash out at? Each other, I guess. This, it seems, is what is sending some hurtling down rabbit-holes to the intense world of conspiracy theory.
The cynic in me, might suggest, as I have in previous blogs, that this is driven by a selfishness inherent to the human race. I hope, it’s just that, and that some are simply not coping well. Yet, what if the politicising of Covid-19 is simply borne out of people not wanting to make sacrifices and wanting to, like their social media page, be the centre of it?
What to do…
Of the many fine words in the English language, should is not one of them. So I won’t bore you with what should happen, and what should social media be for. Best to deal with what is. I shall only reflect on what has helped me get a handle on my own interactions with, what has all of a sudden become a furious beast.
For me, taking a step back has been a nice reprieve. As I have said, upping my fiction intake has helped massively, not a bad time to enter the realm of fiction eh? The likes of Tolkien and Atwood are providing the necessary complete break with reality, that I feel is needed for me at the minute. A kind of a if a tree falls in the woods…approach.
Like our interactions in the world right now, it’s up to ourselves what way we want to do that. Is it sad that something designed to make us social is now turning on us? Maybe so, yet as always, it is us that has the final say on what the outcome will be.