Lessons from Social Media

Lessons from Social Media

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So I left off yesterday with the idea that social media teaches you things.

In particular, it teaches you things about your friends. There’s a lot of stupid/ridiculous/crazy stuff being posted on Facebook. In fairness, it’s on every other social network as well, but Facebook, and Twitter to a lesser extent, is where I see the most because that’s where I’m hanging out.

For example, I love cats. In particular, I love my cat. I post a very small handful of pictures of my cat to Facebook and/or Twitter on an annual basis. I think a lot of people are in the same boat. Pets are part of our lives, part of our families.

But there’s a small group of people for whom their pets are their lives, and that’s fine, too, but you can over share your pet just like some people over share their children. To me, it’s great that you love your cat, and I’m thrilled that you have him/her/them in your life, but I’m not really interested in you filling my timeline with pictures of the little/big fur ball. Unless s/he’s doing something spectacularly entertaining, s/he looks more or less the same sitting on the couch, and the chair, line the floor, stretched out on the porch, or even sitting on top of your refrigerator. The same goes for your dog. Your goldfish. Your guinea pig. Your parakeet. Your giant boa constrictor.

And really, I’ll say the same for your kids. Post big things, exciting things, fun things. Everyone has problems with their homework sometimes, and sometimes as a parent we can’t help as much as we’d like to. Basics math was a long time ago. Don’t stress about it, and don’t post about it every night.

Far worse are all of the ridiculous recirculated hoaxes, scams, prayers, conspiracy theories, etc on cluttering up my time stream. Really, enough. Social media teaches you things about some of your friends that you’d rather you didn’t know.

But sometimes these things are very important.

For example, it teaches you which of your friends might actually be just a little bit crazy.

You know who I’m talking about: the folks who take at face value, or embrace wholeheartedly, every ridiculous statement or idea to come along. These are frequently the same people who believe that there are a large number of things that “they” don’t want you to know. They believe in chem trails and homeopathy and the power of marijuana to cure any disease ever known to man. They wish that the rest of us would just wake up and see the world as it really is instead of how society tells to see it. An awful lot of them also seem to believe in astrology, but that’s a little more widespread among otherwise rational people too.

Social media teaches you that some people don’t understand what the phrase “highlight reel” really means. Breakfast (and lunch, and dinner) updates. The colour of their shoes, socks, and pants. What they bought at the grocery store. The TV channel they can’t be bothered to change. That they just stubbed their toe on the ironing board.

It teaches you which of your friends not to be trapped alone with in a social situation so you can minimize the risk of them placing a hand on your forehead and starting to pray out loud. I am happy if you want me in your thoughts and prayers, because if I’m going through some tough $hi7 I’ll take whatever positive energy anyone cares to send my way, and it’s nice to know you prefer me on this side of the grass. Knowing that is bound to help help my mood, straighten my spine, and help me believe things can better.

But please understand that I am an atheist and humanist. You can believe whatever you want, however crazy it is, and I don’t really care. But I’m not obligated to sit still for it. I’ll be pleasant, and I’ll be polite, but I’ll be firm. With that in mind, it might not surprise you to learn that if the majority of your posts are connected to your religion, and the love you have in the relationship you share God, Jesus, Allah, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I’ve probably already tuned down your impact on my timeline. Sorry about that.

Social media teaches you how to write clearly, or at least more clearly. I mean, it should teach you that. Politeness and clarity cost nothing. It should reinforce some grammatical rules, because without emotional or tonal content to a message, it’s not enough for your words to be vaguely understood. If I don’t get what you’re trying to say, that might partly be the mental space I’m coming from, but there’s a much better chance that you’ve chosen the wrong words, the wrong phrasing, the wrong short forms, or the wrong butchered spelling and grammar. If I don’t receive the meaning you’re trying to communicate because you didn’t communicate it clearly, that’s not my fault, it’s yours.

The same lack of emotional context shift has mated with the ease of non-face-to-face communication offered by the internet to make some of us forget a few things. Like common courtesy. Like how not to be a jerk. Like to actually consider what you’re going to say, and not assume that your first impulse is the best one.

But I digress.

There are also things social media should teach us.

It should teach us that if we’re not paying for the service then we’re not the consumers. We are the audience, the produce, the generators of data for the real users. And the real users are the services themselves. They use the data we generate to sell advertising and generate revenue to keep themselves in business. That’s not cynicism. It’s economics. You’ll notice I haven’t abandoned Facebook or Twitter over a few ads, especially since the algorithms are getting better at showing me things there’s some chance I might be interested in.

Social media should teach us to not automatically believe everything we see. Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t make it so. A corollary: just because someone is wrong on the internet, doesn’t make it important. Demand evidence and think critically. Pick your battles.

It should teach us to understand we only need to worry about the stupidity of other people and other groups when they are actively putting the rest of us in danger. Yes, anti-vaccination movement, I am specifically talking to you here. And others.

Social media has unfortunately helped mainstream media teach us that there’s far more evil in the world that we want to believe. But it should also be teaching us the flipside: there’s far more good stuff to be found in the universe than any of us ever thought. But, while I don’t believe that “evil will always triumph because good is dumb,” it’s a fact of life that good is often lazy, which lets some people get away with far more than they should be able to in most situations.

So, to recap: narcissists, religious nuts, crazy people, lessons learned and lessons we should have learned. What else?

Oh, how about “native advertising”, i.e. ads disguised as news joining the opinions disguised as news that have been around for a long time. It’s disturbing to me that even trusted news sources are basically taking press releases from whoever sends them one and treating it as news. Then we get excited/upset and share it with everyone we know.

And there are cats. Lots and lots of cats.

Oh, and memes. Funny photos. No-funny photos. Infographics.

And entertainment. There’s lots and lots of bread and circuses to choose from.

Like most things, social media is neither good nor bad, and moderation is probably a good idea. It is what we make of it, and your experience will be different than mine or anyone else’s. I suggest trying to maximize the value you take from it, but that value is up to you to determine.

If you want to catch me on Facebook or Twitter, please feel free. I don’t have unlimited time, but I’m more than willing to interact. Religious nuts and crazy people need not apply. Narcissism I have a slightly higher tolerance for because it’s easier to skim past when I need to. Entertainment is nice, stupidity is not, and libel should expect to be treated with relaxed disdain and facts.

What do I post? Big, exciting, and fun events in my life and my family’s. I’ll toss up the occasional meme or photo that’s meant to entertain, share the occasional article that’s meant to make you think, promote the occasional thing a friend is working on, and once in a while post a picture of my cat. Like this.

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Be well, everyone.

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