I have a pretty mixed relationship with social media. I start from the viewpoint of the kid who was never chosen first for anything, all grown up into the adult who's never anyone's first choice. And that's part of my story, part of what goes into making me who I am.
Lingering from childhood: you should not love the way you look so much. You are arrogant. Prideful. Selfish. You should pretend that you don’t love yourself. Dim your light. No one will want to be your friend.
Or this one, they are all laughing at you behind your back.
Or, there is a big party that everyone is invited to except for you.
One of the biggest charges leveled at social media is that it inhibits connection. Real connection. Authentic connection. We are so wired to compare ourselves with others that seeing the highlights of their life, the stuff they choose to promote, on Facebook or Twitter makes us feel bad about our own lives.
And what frustrates me about it is that I know we can do better. You see, I am old in internet years - I remember when social media meant virtually dialing into a BBS and chatting with other college kids from across the wired world. We didn't call it social media, we called it a chatboard. But it was media, and it was social. And here's what it looked like.
Using text-based clients, you could connect from your college's computer system to the BBS. Once you were in, you'd be placed in a virtual hotel lobby, from where you could access any "room" by typing in the proper command. Each "room" contained a chat, and you'd scroll through the previous comments using your keyboard, or press a key to write your own. Some "rooms" were based around a specific topic, like cooking or photography, while others were marked for general conversation. What was important about it was that it was easy to be seen, even in a completely text-based environment. All you had to do was show up, catch on to the conventions, and be witty or interesting, and you were welcome in the conversation.
This is something that social media has lost. The changes that have been made since those early days - yes, some good, some bad - have turned it into a platform where the dominant culture says you must sing for your supper. Now, instead of having a variety of topical "rooms" to chat in, each person gets their own wall, like an individual "room" where we can entertain visitors. We are cut off from each other by the features of the technology and have had to grow our online culture in ways that reach back toward one another - not necessarily a simple task.
There’s a big, massive difference between being seen and getting attention.
And our social media conversation has smeared that line a million times until rendered unrecognizable.
I know we can build tools that bring us together instead of apart. We've done it before. I love blog carnivals for this very reason - they bring together a group of related thoughts and ideas, and promote conversations. But that's only a beginning - if we are creating the world we want to live in, why not create one where everyone feels welcome? Why not demand one that improves upon an idea, instead of one that forces a host of workarounds to get where we want to go?
This was inspired by the Social Media Consciousness Project. If you found this interesting, click through and join the conversation.