The Double-Edged Sword of Social Platforms

I’m fairly present online. I write this blog every day, I keep track of what my friends are up to on Facebook and Twitter, I scan the news reports as they come out. I consider myself to be pretty “plugged in.” (Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so plugged in at all.)

But one thing that I’ve noticed more and more is just how often we’re upset about things online. (And yes, I note the irony of me writing an upset post about other people being upset all the time. I’m not really upset this time. Just observing something and wanting to get the thoughts down on paper.) I mean, when I go through my Facebook feed, I see a lot of the same things pop up again and again: vacation pics, family pics, life updates, and then a whole slew of outrage.

Outrage over the Democrats. Outrage over the Republicans. Yelling about needing to end Obamacare and about needing to extend it. Outrage about Columbus. Outrage about people who are outraged about Columbus. If you can think of it, then I almost guarantee someone’s upset about it *right this instant* somewhere online.

I’ve certainly contributed more than my fair share to this stream of upsettedness. (Though I’d like to think that writing in-depth blog posts about something at least contributes more to the discussion than slapping a meme on my Facebook page, I realize that we all have different ways of interacting, and it’s not for me to say that someone else’s way is better or worse than my own.) And when I take a moment to step back, I have to wonder if any of it is worth it, or if it’s all like American Idol.

I used to follow American Idol faithfully. I watched every broadcast, from the start to the finish. I would talk to friends about who I wanted to win, and express outrage (there’s that word again) when something didn’t go as I thought it should. I enjoyed the show.

And then I stopped watching.

And you know what? I didn’t miss it at all. Everything that had seemed so important while I was watching it just ended up being . . . not. Who cared who won the next season? I didn’t listen to their music anyway. What did it matter if there was another “scandal”? None of it mattered. And in the end, I think (most of us) can agree that American Idol really didn’t matter. (Sorry, Clay Aiken.)

So is all this social media outrage the same thing? Is it nothing more than a bunch of us yelling about things into an echo chamber? Sometimes it can feel that way, especially when I see stories pop up again months after I first saw them. (It makes me wonder how these things spread–from friend to friend to friend, in a ever-repeating loop? Will we still be seeing warnings about Facebook charging fees decades from now?)

I’m not saying that the issues don’t matter. Racism, sexism, abortion, gay rights, health care. All of these things certainly are important and deserve to be discussed. But is the outrage and horror that’s expressed online worth it? Does it really get anything done?

So far, I’d have to say that in general, it doesn’t. We’re all well trained to be upset about whatever there is to be upset about. Share a post. Like it. Comment on it. Then move onto the next one. But it’s like we’ve somehow confused getting upset about something for a day or two to be the equivalent of actually getting anything done. Actually making a difference.

Sometimes we’ll identify a person or persons who have particularly angered us. Who are representative of some evil we’ve identified. And the internet as a whole will tear those people to shreds. Ruin their lives. What good does that do? Anything?

I’ve seen a fair number of friends step back from Facebook or Twitter and just take a vacation from it all for a while. Almost all of them are happier away from this, from what they report when they return. That doesn’t really appeal to me, however. I enjoy these blog posts (or I wouldn’t write them.) While the outrage or thoughts I might express on them might not make a difference in the world as a whole, they certainly make a difference for me. It helps me to think things through and come to a conclusion about what I believe, and occasionally someone calls me out on an error, and I get a chance to learn I was wrong about something. I can actually change my mind.

But that’s a conversation. That’s not just yelling into the Interwebs and then moving on with your life, forgetting it all the next moment, because you’re too busy being upset about the next thing to come down the road.

This is a blog post that doesn’t seem to have a point. Drat. I suppose for me it comes down to this: social media is changing us. It’s connecting us, and dividing us in ways society hasn’t seen before. Some of that’s helpful and good. Some of it . . . not so much.

If the things you believe and say and do aren’t any different because of what you’ve seen and been exposed to online, then maybe it’s time to take a look at yourself and wonder why. Are you having conversations, or are you just nodding your head to what others are saying in a never-ending stream of agreeing-with-those-you-already-agree-with.

Deep thoughts for a Tuesday.

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