Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Social Media Paradox


 I’m burned-out on social media.
On the one hand, I feel like it’s nothing more than a vehicle for people’s pathetic need for attention, but at the same time I feel obligated to participate in it and am often guilty of the same things I criticize other people for doing. I’ve always maintained that “normal people” (i.e., the majority of people who aren’t in the creative professions and therefore don’t need to promote their work) don’t need to be on Facebook, except maybe to share photos with their family and friends. But in today’s society, where everyone is considered a “brand,” such thinking is probably na├»ve.
Add to that the fact that, like every other grass roots movement, it’s been taken over by big corporations, and you can probably sympathize with my point of view.
I find that most social media posts fall into one of two categories: bragging/promotion (either for one’s self or one’s political ideas) or the casual cruelty of making fun of other people.
I stopped posting my political beliefs some time ago, because I found that I was either preaching to the choir or preaching to people who didn’t care. Either way, I wasn’t going to change anyone’s opinion, so the only purpose it could have served was to show how noble, caring, or sensitive I was and my expectation to be “liked” accordingly.
Even when I share an article that I think someone might be interested in—without any personal agenda—people don’t click on it. It’s like you literally can’t ask people for a minute of their time anymore, so why bother?
The most famous example of my inability to accomplish anything using social media was my recent unsuccessful campaign to get long-term unemployment benefits extended. (OK, maybe some of that was the fault of our do-nothing Congress, which has passed fewer bills than any Congress in history, but I digress.) Despite posting over 5,000 tweets and making numerous media appearances, absolutely nothing happened. Long-term unemployment benefits weren’t extended, Congress continued to take endless vacations and not pass any bills, and our economy continued to deteriorate.
Nowadays when I look at Facebook or Twitter, it seems to be nothing but paid advertising, interspersed with the usual cute pictures of babies, kittens and/or puppies, vacation photos from people I rarely (or never) see in real life and, in general, things designed to arouse jealousy in the person looking at them.
I have almost 1,000 “friends” on Facebook, and yet for some reason it’s always the same ten people who show up in my news feed.
Some people I know have chosen to “opt out” of social media, either for a designated period of time or permanently. Those who do so permanently are still regarded by our society as “freaks,” but perhaps the tide may be turning.
Especially in light of recent articles about online bullying, is it surprising that Robin Williams’s daughter, to take but one example, chose to cancel her Twitter account?
Ultimately, the Internet is a reflection of us, but it often seems like it only reflects the worst aspects of human nature: our pettiness, our jealousy, and our tendency to reduce things to the lowest common denominator.
I recently spent an entire weekend carefully scripting and shooting a take-off of the Woody Allen movie Interiors. Even though it was barely over a minute long, I spent hours agonizing over the shots and dialogue, and I couldn’t wait to show it to my friends when I visited my boyfriend at the bar where he works. When I got there, one of the other employees was just as excited to show me a video on his cell phone: of someone bouncing off a fat woman’s stomach.
The latest tempest in a teapot has been the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, a well-intentioned idea that has received more attention than the current wars in the Middle East or Ukraine and has deteriorated into the usual controversy. Some people see it as a harmless way to raise money for ALS, others see it as the latest example of people’s seemingly endless need for attention. Just today I read (on Facebook, I’ll admit it) that somebody died allegedly filming his own Ice Bucket Challenge.
Is our need for attention so great that we’re willing to die for it?
Or, to put it another way, if an ice bucket falls in the forest and nobody hears it, did it really fall?