When life puts a new trap in the path of we humans, my normal response is to walk right into it, realise it’s a trap, ignore all available advice about how to get out of it, then write about the experience.
As a result, there is probably a record of me being wrong about just about everything somewhere on social media – but I’m not worried about that because when there’s enough misleading rubbish plastered all over the internet, I think people will get the hang of ignoring that, too*. I’m hoping the idea will catch on.
But I am worried about what social media use is doing to us, not least because of what it does to real world conversations. I keep getting wrong ideas about the people around me – who they know how well, and how seriously to take this or that row that they say went on, because it so often turns out they’re talking about something that happened on Twitter, that everyone forgot about ten seconds after it happened: something, in my view, that scarcely happened at all.
There’s a strange paradox there – social media angles for constant, low-level attention and response. Emotions scud to apparent extremes, and die down and pass on. Deciding to ‘like’ or not like, share or not share, follow or not follow, is a very low-investment action but, when you’re one of a mob, your action can be part of something that’s taken (briefly) very, very seriously.
And of course, it may turn up in a court case in two years time.
I use social media to find and assess news sources (because the corporate media is very clearly not on our side); I use it for political campaigning, to further my business by means of both networking and marketing – and, like most people, I use it to mess about between messaging people and doing other things.
All in all, I spend far more time on social media than I ever intended that I would. I still refuse to use a Smartphone, so still regularly have what used to be called AFK (away from keyboard) days, which I’m profoundly grateful for, and which I think helped me to think in a joined-up way about Richard Seymour’s new book, which I’ll tell you about in a minute. Not having a Smartphone is a bit inconvenient. I occasionally miss meetings, because friends can’t grasp the idea that if they change the time/venue at the last minute, and “notify” me via Facebook, I won’t know, because I’m out, walking to the meeting, not looking at Facebook.
It’s worth it.
Lately, I have been trying to impress on people that they need back-up methods of contacting the people they work/campaign with, and that it’d be a good idea to up the level of non-social media campaigning because it all feels rather out of control – well, out of our control – to me. Which is why I was all ears when I heard Richard Seymour had something to say about it. I’m halfway through his new book now (I was riveted throughout yesterday’s train-journey).
It’s called The Twittering Machine. Social media may not be doing quite what we think it’s doing, and Seymour acknowledges that it’s all too new for us to be sure where it is leading – but we all know there are huge potential benefits, and huge potential evils in the mix. We know one of the dangers all too well …
People put up notices saying “I’m taking a break from social media” … and are back within a few hours, because something “irresistible” showed up in their feed (how did they know?). And we know it because we, and others around us, have fantasies about digital suicide – you know, that thing where you just swear wildly then delete all your accounts, and skip off into the sunset? But generally, we don’t. That would be to do what social media moguls fear most, you know. As Seymour points out, a couple of websites turned up along the way to help people do the ultimate internet flounce (the ‘delete account’ links tend not to be too well advertised or too total, so people tend to need assistance). Both sites got scary letters from social media moguls, and promptly committed digital suicide.
But there is far more than the possibility of traps and addiction to consider here. I’ll review the book properly when I’ve finished reading it but, meantime, I thought my associates ought to know – I’m still really glad I don’t carry a Smartphone around with me and, whatever you say next, I really don’t think I’m going to start doing so. I recommend you do a personal time-audit – check the amount of AFK thinking time you give yourself in the average week.
*Yes, I do understand about data-mining but what the heck, I’m sure the devil has already taken screenshots and date-stamped them.
PS When I’d finished the book, I wrote this, then went in the garden.