“Social” Media

A couple months ago, I was listening to Here and Now on NPR and they did a story about Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania, which was in the middle of a mandated “one-week blackout of instant messaging, Twitter, MySpace and Facebook.”  If you have two and a half minutes, you should go listen to it – the audio link is halfway down the page.

Here’s the general gist of it: the school didn’t allow any students to access social media via the campus internet (although they can easily do it from smartphones, as the host notes) for one week.  At the end of that week, they have to write a response paper about the experience.  Before I go any further, I should state that I am wholly against any sort of “response paper” in just about any situation.  I think that’s just stupid and a waste of time.  Class discussions (if they have small classes) would probably be more interesting for everyone involved.  But that’s not my point.

When I heard the story, I was frustrated at the apparent generation gap between the interviewer (and host) and the interviewee, a student at the school.  I freely admit that I go into this with no small amount of established frustration on the topic, but I felt like Jane Clayson made it clear that she had an opinion on the matter when she said, “Heaven forbid, [students] actually have to talk to each other.”

I see your quote and raise you one, Ms. Clayson:

“The Internet is like alcohol in some sense. It accentuates what you would do anyway. If you want to be a loner, you can be more alone. If you want to connect, it makes it easier to connect.”
– Esther Dyson, Interview in Time Magazine, October 2005

To me, it seemed like Clayson was implying that students without social media would turn into some kind of hermit society because talking to each other was too difficult or passé.  However, in my experience, people who are active on Facebook or Twitter are similarly socially active in actual reality.  I consider myself a fairly social person, both online and off.  If I had to live without the internet for a week, it would be a little weird.  But if I had the ability to tell all of my friends that I was offline (so they called me instead of using Facebook to tell me about an event tonight, for example), it would be fine.  The only things I wouldn’t be able to do would be: passively “hear” my friends’ funny or interesting thoughts, find out that one of my ex-boyfriends is now married and get Facebook recommendations of funny videos, great photos or interesting articles.  There are lots of other ways I could acquire this information, if I wanted to.  And you know what?  If I wanted to chat with someone?  I’d call them.

The student who was interviewed didn’t seem to be significantly affected by the blackout, but she said that she thought it was helping her classmates realize that they were “enslaved by the media.”  I’m not really sure what that means, to be honest.  But here’s my thought on the matter: The internet doesn’t change who you are or how many social connections you make – it just greases the wheels so you can make those connections more easily. Could we live without cars?  Sure.  It wouldn’t be tons of fun, but we’d still get wherever we wanted to go.

As an example, think of the guy or girl you work with who is always overly friendly, or the person you went to high school with (who could only be described as an acquaintance, not a friend) that gave you a copy of their senior photo with a phony message on the back (Love ya!  Stay sweet!).  I would bet money they were some of the FIRST people to find you on Facebook when you joined and wasted no time before writing on your wall.  They’ve been doing this stuff since long before Facebook made it so easy.

Now that I’m done ranting… What do you think?  Am I missing the point?  I’m interested in hearing other people’s feedback.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to ““Social” Media

  1. gem

    I agree with you to some degree, but there are also people for whom media accentuates bad social qualities about them, moreso than social media will ever accentuate someone’s kindness or patience. I don’t know if you’ve ever been sitting with a group of people and every single one of them is on their phone, either reading a text message or email or seeing what FB notified them about or reading an @ on Twitter. I do it too, and it’s not at all a desirable quality. I’ve actually been in a conversation, then stopped it to see why my phone vibrated. As if the person in front of me isn’t worth my time. As if there’s more promise in the digital communication. As if it’s okay to obviously weigh my social options. (I don’t think that is okay, yet I think that it’s become socially acceptable.)

    Then there’s also a new ease to bullying due to the anonymity of the Internet, but perhaps that’s a separate issue.

    And I also can think of people (well, one girl specifically) who uses social media to make herself feel as if she is socially awesome, when really she is not. It gives her an inflated sense of popularity when in reality, many of these people she “talks” to, she doesn’t know at all. We one time had a conversation about this friend of ours and she kept saying how she liked him. And I was like “Yeah, sure, but I don’t trust him as far as I can throw him.” And she agreed with me after some contemplation and real world examples, but it had honestly never occurred to her that he was an untrustworthy person. She assumed that their extensive digital interaction meant that he was great, without realizing that it wasn’t a real enough interaction to truly judge or see a person’s attributes.

    Don’t get me wrong, overall, I agree that she might still be delusional if media didn’t exist. And of course people have been interrupting conversations with their selfishness for ages. But I definitely think that media makes it easier to have these sorts of situations. But there are also many benefits to it and in the end, I’m all for alcohol and I’m all for the Internet!

  2. In general, I am all about progress. And it drives me crazy when someone goes on and on about how [insert technological advance] is ruining society in one way or another. Because, honestly, who cares? It’s here and society is changing and we can be sad about it but we have to move on. Refusing to check e-mail because you don’t like it is just as rude as refusing to return a phone call because you don’t like to talk on the phone. I hate talking on the phone, but I know I have to do it sometimes.

    I’m right with your point that social media just magnifies a person’s social tendencies. My husband, who is generally uncomfortable with personal interaction, can’t get far enough away from Facebook. I’ve always enjoyed keeping in touch with old friends and I’m curious about what everyone is up to, so FB is a gold mine for me. This is what “interaction” is going to mean in the future. Yes, it’s too bad we don’t get together for barn dances anymore but let’s just sigh nostalgically and get on with it. I’ll bet there wouldn’t be Thriller zombie re-enactments without the internet. Maybe that’s our new barn dance?

    The aspect of social media that does concern me is its affect on attention span. I find myself unable to really get absorbed in things, even the social media outlets themselves (a great blog post, a video online), because I’m clicking back and forth among them. And I know someone whose family has been concerned about his health because he literally sits inside all day surfing the ‘net. They think he’s addicted to online gambling or porn, but I believe he’s just found the million-and-one time wasters on the internet to distract him from the problems in his life that he can’t solve. It’s terrible, but I guess without the internet, I’m quite certain that he would be addicted to something else. TV or alcohol or playing dice in the alley with the newsboys or whatever the vice of the day might be.

    So my point is, I guess, it’s here so get used to it. The resulting problems will arise, and solutions will surface, and someday we’ll all be nostalgic for the day that we listened to actual iPods because that new inner-ear MP3 implant procedure is so invasive.

  3. Thanks, gem and Blythe! You guys both make good points.

    And gem, I think “I’m all for alcohol and I’m all for the Internet!” should have been the title of this post. Thanks for summing it all up.

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