Unsocial Media


Social media is anything but sociable. Take Twitter. Watching a twitter feed for ten minutes is like being in a bar at a sales convention. Judging by my feed it is a book sellers’ group. Everyone is sitting around the bar having the quick jittery conversations you have in noisy places. Some of the conversations are profound; most are trivial. Others are just people trying to hawk their wares. A few people are watching the news on TV and every once in a while they nudge you and point at the screen. Look at that! But by the time you look they’ve lost interest and are pointing at something else. A few people are showing you pictures of their kid or cat they carry in their wallet. Everyone seems to be competing in the ‘smartest person in the room’ contest. The one with the sharpest aphorism wins.

Very rarely — such as the outpouring of grief at the death of Robin Williams or on the spot reporting of a breaking revolution or disaster — Twitter seems important and genuine. Time will tell whether it really is.

Facebook is a little different. It’s like a clubhouse where you hang out with your friends while keeping outsiders outside or at least at the fringes of the room. I mean, who wants to talk to those bozos – however you might define bozo.

The same kind of barroom sharing goes on but it’s a little less frenetic, a little more detailed — though not necessarily more profound or earth shaking. People hawk their wares, though maybe a little less aggressively.

Sociable conversation seems difficult. People respond to things in the moment, seldom even editing their posts for grammar let alone content. Extreme positions and textual exegesis seem to be the order of the day. True debate, where people regularly change their views based on evidence — not so common (though not rare either).

In the end, technology like Twitter and Faceback have impacts on social intercourse without really changing the nature of communications. We’ve been primates a lot longer than we’ve been on-line. Evolution occurs but not that fast. Our brains are still wired to respond to the world in particular ways and our social and intellectual life is no different.

Recently I tried a new form of communication. I sent hand-written post cards to people to promote a new book. The response was amazing. People came to the launch, bought the book, said they would steal the idea. If the postal service has a resurgence and survives the next ten years, history may judge that I was responsible.

Social media works best when it is presented face to face, person to person, human brain to human brain.

But that’s ten minutes.


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