Hating on social media is trendier than saying you love it, but we’re on there half the time anyway, so we may as well own all the good things, despite the side effects. The best part about social media isn’t the hate, the distraction, the irritability, envy, time suck, or procrastination factor, it’s all the stuff that draws us to it in the first place.
Full disclosure: I’m not one of these tech kids. I’m a Gen Xer who used to have an answering machine, delayed signing into my college email account until third year, and had a ring code so I’d know the person calling was a close associate before I answered the phone (my parents didn’t have the ring code, sorry not sorry, mom and dad).
When I first learned of the Facebook, it still prompted status updates with “is” and I quibbled with the existential reality of “is” while recalling Bill Clinton’s testimony on the verb. I didn’t know what the site was for. Keeping up with exes? Looking at pictures of lunch? Affirming my fandom for the cold side of the pillow?
Reminders of People We Would Have Forgotten
Facebook is a veritable treasure trove of memories I didn’t know I wanted. Once I saw that a woman I went to high school with had a house fire, and I was able to throw in ten bucks for stuff the insurance didn’t cover. Her daughters are adorable, and one just made her first communion. Her two front teeth were missing and I got to say congrats, with the confetti burst and everything. There aren’t too many Catholics in my social group or my family, so it’s truly a joy to see some Catholic traditions still happening out there in the world.
I’ve also kept up with people I used to really care about but barely know anymore. Through little posts and seeing what new records they’re talking about or TV shows they’re watching or mountains they’re biking, it’s like we still kind of have that connection, even if it’s not really real.
Sometimes people pass through New York, as people do, and I get to meet up with them and we have a laugh. It’s lovely. If I’d been keeping up with people through phone numbers or emails, I wouldn’t have the up-to-date information anymore, or the nerve to send emails out of the blue asking what their new favorite restaurant down the street from where they live is.
I don’t feel jealous of the people on Instagram, looking their best in their vacation photos, because I know how hard it is it to take a great selfie. You have to go through like a half dozen before you get one where the angle is right and you can’t see those lines on your neck, without looking like you really tried. The people who can take good selfies deserve our likes—it takes effort, it’s practically a job.
That brings us to the influencers, those derided Insta jobsters who amass followers then give duck face and hawk sneakers or festivals or smoothies. Why does everyone have a problem with these kids? They’re basically models who have cut out the middle man. How entrepreneurial! Instead of advertisers hiring an agency and then the agency hiring models, and some producer putting it all together, these kids just do it all themselves, on their phones, while taking great selfies. That’s almost a talent.
Twitter Is the Ultimate Russian Roulette
Twitter, the writer’s best frenemy. How else would you know how many people would shoot you directly in the face if they saw you on the street? It’s a lovely tradition to write something you think is rational only to find that it’s incendiary and everyone unfurls their claws and scratches your mentions to bits.
In addition to all that glory, there’s finding kindred spirits, by which I mean kind of kindred kind of spirits, because it’s not like you ever really meet anyone in real life whom you’ve met on Twitter (though I’ve had exceptions!). Also, you don’t really get to know them, but you do get to know their surface persona, and there’s something noncommittal yet engaging about that, to the point where it’s almost sort of like having a friend.
With real people, however, there’s loads of fun to be had in incendiary dialogues and epic threads. One thing that’s super fun is when writers really have at each other. Ideas and wit abound, all in the name of uncovering great, universal truths, or maybe it’s about jockeying for position. It’s not always easy to tell. What I love is when I broach an idea, a thought, a supposition, back it up, chuck it out into the world, and have it inspire more debate.
That’s the whole point, basically, of what we’re doing out here: talking about ideas, coming up with creative solutions, pointing out what’s happening in culture in real time—in time to change it, to make it, to have a stake in it. What with the international troll farms, there’s great fun to be had playing don’t-engage-with-the-incendiary-bot roulette.
A couple of times, threads about my work have taken a nasty turn, or guilted me by association with colleagues with different views. But lately, something almost sort of marvelous happened. Recently I posted a defense of the Intellectual Dark Web here at The Federalist, in response to a few pieces defaming it, and then the writer of one of them, from Quillette, a publication I adore and have written for, published a piece defaming my defaming of his piece. “Ooh, what fun!” thought I. “Now we’re really getting into it.” There’s nothing like a wholesome social media tussle to get the blood flowing.
There’s this crew of online outlets that are dedicated to talking about ideas (including this one), and all we writers go out there and talk, talk louder, writer harder, writer faster. We don’t know the truth. We’re trying to reveal it. We don’t know the answers, we don’t know the right decisions; instead we know the dangers, we know the risks, “we smack each other in the press and we don’t print retractions.”
But we’re talking about it. The discussion is real, and it’s on social media, or at events that you pretty much only hear about on social media platforms, then see documented there as well.
It’s unprecedented for so many people to be able to get their voices out there. Social media allows for all ideas to be heard, to affect the broader conversation of what on earth we’re supposed to be doing with ourselves and making the world into the amazing, spectacular place we all know it could be.
Yes, I have a utopian vision. We all have a utopian vision of some form or another, it’s why we care so much. We think we owe it to the world, to our ability, to our fellow humans, to give it a shot, to speak our piece. Anyone can do it, can speak, can try to elevate, can seek to destroy. All we have to do is keep the platforms open.
Corporate zeal won’t secure the rights of free speech, which is why we all have to keep speaking—on all the platforms—our minds, our hearts, and our consciences.