My Thoughts

I’ve been thinking about the effects of social media (the online culture as a whole) … particularly how communication (at least in my view) is losing that personal/human feel. Our patience is eroding. Personally, I find it hard to read articles that are too long and I’d attribute this current state to us ‘getting- used-to-140-character-tweets-posts-newsfeeds’, which give us an on-demand, brief and constantly flowing update of what’s happening at any given time - to the second.

I’m unable to conclude if this is a good or bad thing. After all, every generation experiences a disruption of they way they used to do things and this is often coupled with the previous generation lamenting about how ‘things were better back in my day’. I couldn’t find the words for my discomfort with this trend until I stumbled on this video.

He takes the words right out of my mouth. Here goes:

I really see Twitter, and Facebook to a slightly lesser extent, but really Twitter, as routing devices for human attention. They are very good at that, they are very effectively providing our species with a common nervous system which we can use to transmit signals to each other. And so when there’s something that is a very provocative or disturbing signal or a beautiful signal, it’s a great system to get a lot of humans’ attention directed at that thing very very quickly and that can actually happen in a matter of moments now or minutes. So as routing devices, Twitter and Facebook are incredibly effective and I think do that very elegantly. It’s as self-expressive mediums, they are less elegant. And I actually don’t think they are designed to be self-expressive mediums in the same way that a blank piece of paper and a pen is designed to be a self-expressive medium.

And he goes on to explain the four trends that he’s noticed in online culture.

Trend 1: Compression

One thing we’ve seen, actually predating the web, but accentuated with the web, is the compressing and shortening and speeding up of communication. So you can go back to letter writing which gave way to eventually telephone calls which gave way to faxes which gave way to emails which gave way to text messages and chat and tweets and … each successive level gets like more and more compressed and shorter and faster and we are sort of hovering at the tweet right now. And it was unclear to me that there’s another level of compression after that, there maybe is one more, like maybe we start grunting at each other or something but … we’ve pretty much hit a kind of terminal velocity, I think, in terms of how fast communication can go. So then you ask the quesiton like, what happens after that? And do we continue to do that mode or do we hit some kind of wall and bounce back in the other direction craving a little more depth and substance again?

Trend 2: Disposability

A lot of the stuff that we put out there into the world as individuals, we have this sort of complicit understanding that it’s going to be swallowed up and replaced moments after we publish it by the torrent of new stuff that comes after it, there’s the sense of just expressing yourself in a sort of disposable way that won’t have any sort of lasting impact.

Trend 3: Curation

So people were increasingly expressing themselves through the stuff that they thought was cool. So there are web services like Pinterest and Tumblr and Twitter and Facebook, which have really encouraged this type of self expression in our culture. It’s a lot easier than creating things directly … to assemble lists is easier than to come up with original stuff. So I noticed that a lot of self expression online was taking the form of curation. It’s like walking into someone’s apartment and judging them by what they have hanging on the walls instead of talking to them.

Trend 4: Self-promotion

Life as an advertisement. This is something, I think we all feel, to different degress, when we fill out our Facebook profiles and when we develop these online personas. There’s this way that we try to advertise ourselves and look as awesome as we possibly can like, “Look how hot my girlfriend is … Look how wild my party was … Look at how fun my vacation was …” all of these things. But I think that creates a lot of unhealthy tendencies in people because you start comparing yourselves to others, you’re always looking for ways to look cooler than you are, leads insecurity and anxiety.

Spot … on.