Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Social Media and Attention

Twitter. Facebook. MySpace. Blogs. Forums. Social Media is everywhere. If you are on the internet, you probably participate in at least one of these forms of social media, whether you are reading a blog (like this one) or post your information on Facebook or MySpace.

Several questions arise from this new medium of communication. One, should we post so much about ourselves in such places? Two, are we becoming a generation of self-obsessed writers? and, Three, what do we do about information overload with so much media to consume?

The first question is the one which is taking up the column inches in the traditional media. Because of Facebook's changing privacy options, people are suddenly up in arms about the lack of privacy and control over our information. Apparently some people have been posting private details of their lives on the internet without realizing that other people might see it.

This always amuses me. I have several websites and recently joined Facebook and Twitter. I did this partly to use social media to promote the organizations I belong to. It was easier to set up group pages in Facebook if I knew how to do it with a personal page. Now I'm addicted to reading the updates of my friends. I also set up a Twitter feed for an event I am working on and, although I have few followers, I do participate in conversations on Twitter from time to time (93 tweets in almost 3 weeks).

I also run this blog, anonymously, because I know that anything I put on the internet can be seen by others--that's the whole point of it. While I know that my identity could be discovered, fairly easily, I figured that by posting here anonymously I would at least stop the easy connection to my name by Google and other basic searches. That way I could discuss fears and anxieties without immediate problems in my job search.

The default for posting on the web should be--this will be seen by others and will, for a long time, be associated with my name. It may be used by spammers and marketers. It is certainly not private. That takes care of the first concern people have about social media. If you don't expect privacy from things you post on the internet (and therefore you pick and you chose what you put up there), then there isn't an issue.

The second question is a bit more complex. There are a lot of jokes on the internet (and serious discussions as well) about how people are detailing the inane everyday actions of their lives as if others should care. People use Twitter to post that they're going out to eat or post their dinner menu as their Facebook status. Everyone and their uncle, it seems, starts blogs thinking that they can earn money through posting about their day.

It is possible that one aspect of social media has been to give everyone a voice--and that the expectation that we have to be heard (and should expect to be heard) has led to unsupportable social behavior--a generation who believes that every thought should have an audience (and deserves one).

When printing was hard, you had to work to get your thoughts a larger audience. Only a few could expect an audience and not every thought was deemed worthy of print. Now that there is no barrier to getting your thought to an audience, the overall quality of the thoughts being printed is much lower (because there are substantially more thoughts going out to the public). There is plenty of good material going out but it is accompanied by a huge slew of lesser quality.

However, I do believe that the good thoughts, worthy of an audience, are still out there and more and more people are discovering their ability to communicate (having been given the chance, something not possible even 50 years ago). This is a good thing, even if it is harder to find the good writing in the avalanche of people expressing themselves.

Naturally, this avalanche of people posting information on the web leads to the third issue of social media--the overload when consuming media. I can hardly believe how much time I spend each day on the computer. My laptop is opened when I wake and is closed when I go to sleep. Most of the day it is my constant companion. I check my email constantly, then check my RSS feeds, look at Facebook and check Twitterfall for my search terms.

I am addicted and almost feel twitchy when away from it for too long. I never meant to get so involved with all of it. I only started reading blogs about 4 or 5 years ago. I joined Facebook and Twitter this year. I've had my own websites for much, much longer but it wasn't a constant thing to maintain every day.

There is so much out there. I could web surf all day and still feel like there was more to consume. The information overload coming to us is tremendous and nonstop. I don't have an answer for this. Perhaps each person has to create artificial limits to keep it under control. I just know that I have subscribed to three more blogs recently and it feels like the information avalanche is simply too much at times.

Social Media pulls at our attention all of the time, and also flatters us with the idea that other people are paying attention to us. Either way, it is addicting. While the ability to get published, easily, is a wonderful benefit, it also means that we get drowned in triviality and mundane observations and, simply, too much information (even if much of it is wonderful).

It's a curse...and a blessing. How much of either it is depends on how we manage it.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please be kind in your comments.