There was scarcely a week in 2013 that didn’t have its own tempest in a social media teacup. What’s more is that these storms came to define a whole issue in a single phrase — or photo — killing all the nuance of the issue in one fell swoop. Indeed, according to TinyMixTapes contributor Benjamin Pearson, the social media tools defined the nature of our conversations.
If the topic was race, the conversation was about Trayvon Martin. If the topic was sex, Miley Cyrus would sneak in. And if the topic was privacy Edward Snowden would inevitably come up. People would fall on one side of the issue or another, not because they were landmarks in human behavior, but because they became touchstones within culture, pushed to the fore by social media.
“Instead of worrying about the state of the real world, I spent this year obsessed with online debates about the media’s representations of it,” Pearson wrote.
This is something most of us probably experienced, lurching from one outrage to the next. Very few issues were resolved, because internet comments and status updates don’t really allow for any depth of discussion, not when we can’t talk face-to-face, or at length.
“Unlike the subscription model used by magazines and newspapers, with free online content, we’re just as likely — or maybe even more so — to click on something that seems idiotic, over-the-top, or just plain weird,” Pearson wrote.
With the ability to pick and choose your friends online, it’s very easy for your feed to turn into an echo chamber where you only encounter people you agree with. People seek out the other side, only to ridicule it. The more ridiculous the better. As a result of this echo chamber effect, polarization has become the norm. In the case of the Trayvon Martin story, most either fell on the side of the oppressed child that was shot by a racist, or the side of the oppressed gun-owner that was having his right to defend himself squashed. In that atmosphere, there’s no way to reach meaningful solutions. The echo is too loud.
When everyone is locked into this cycle of being endlessly offended at everything, the ability to communicate is shut down. In the end, this defeats the entire purpose of social media. So rather than waiting for the next offense to come along, maybe in 2014 we should listen to one another.
Maybe it’s more important to worry about things that matter, instead of worrying about the ethical implications of twerking.
Image credit: starrynight_012