The ever-evolving world of social media is young, oversaturated, and addictive. It pulls in contributors, promising them a platform for speaking at others, allows them to spew violently, all the while gathering millions of other fleeting opinions and sorting them by sentiment and popularity. We are inundated with statuses, tweets, and captions every moment that vie for attention from all, affirmation from some, and a spirited response by more. We seek to feel important and have our opinions validated by the notification of a like. There is no real signing off when Facebook and Twitter shoot out rings and banners across our screens at all hours of the day and night. We do not wait for the morning paper to generate conversation. It is continuous, although the ads for the dinner delivery service pop up around 7 pm like clockwork.
If social media is indeed the future, a increasingly legitimate platform for business and interpersonal communication, and something we find ourselves already tethered to by years of tagged photos and thousands of tenuous friendships, it must be confronted. Although I’ve had a Facebook account since eighth grade and my navigation of the site is intuitive, sometimes I step back and reflect about why I have one and how I ought to use it. Since we are utterly entrenched, shouldn’t we consider how we use it properly? It feels a bit like we’ve domesticated a wild animal and now we don’t know what we began training it for. Yes, businesses have found a way to monetize our connections, sell their products, promote their brand image, and even measure the effectiveness of posts. Users have crafted their profiles to reflect their personal image, adjusting the lighting of pictures, personalizing the “About Me” language, and developing a cadence of posts that will keep their following interested but definitely not bombarded. We’ve mastered the science of social media.
But what about the art? Could it be more than strategy and metrics? More than well-edited photos and unified brand messaging? Perhaps a little less talking at and a little more speaking with? There isn’t much reward for private messages congratulating a friend on a new job or watching a video uploaded by a friend, yet these organic exchanges keep us coming back to Facebook day after day. I will choose my friend’s album of silly Snapchat screenshots over just about any paid content. I’ll read the status by a classmate whom I respect but I’ll scroll past the chronic ranters whose ‘brand’ I know well. We know what to do on social media, but what’s it all for?
I think the reality is that we’re all pretty exhausted by these platforms, but we don’t know an alternative source of exchange that provides this much raw entertainment or participation in a conversation bigger than ourselves. While I don’t quite know the alternative to the current use of these platforms, I want to spend my semester considering it. I don’t want to be embarrassed in fifty years by my social media obsession and fruitless engagement in it. If it’s here to stay, I want to commit to using it well. Next week I’ll be looking at the limitations of social media. Once we acknowledge the ways that it can’t be everything we want it to be, then we can dream about what it could be…