Commentary Comment Criticism
A common refrain is “Don’t read the comments on news sites.” But not for the reasons you’d expect – but because so many obvious non-readers leave comments there.
Commentary Comment Criticism
A common refrain is “Don’t read the comments on news sites.” But not for the reasons you’d expect – but because so many obvious non-readers leave comments there.
Several days ago I wrote about vagueposting.
This isn’t a polished post. It’s just what is running through my mind. Do not take the time to read it if you might get triggered by my stupidity or errant abuse of words and ideas. This post is going to make a few people uncomfortable. Because I suffered the effects of it directly when I was younger, I feel competent to blather about it.
A couple of days later after my vaguepost commentary, a relevant enigma emerged, one involving a tertiary acquaintance and an unexpected death. Instead of just stating what happened, people involved circumspectly concealed the details, which of course is their right. That’s a tough sell in the era of social media. They tried, though. They stepped on toes, left ominous overtones by what was omitted, and generally made many who initially heard of the untimely passing say the worst about ‘how.’ I cringed to read what was missing by implication. As a bona fide lout and perennial foot-in-mouth sufferer, I learned more by what was NOT said.
That’s what people always do. If you think they don’t, you’re fooling yourself. Humans fill in the gaps with whatever information they have and preconceptions they possess. You have the absolute right to live your life in the manner you see fit and to not share things with those you choose not to. You also have the right to remain silent, but as Ron White paraphrased, “That ain’t happening.” Part of the damnable compact with social media is that people are going to ask “What happened?” Some will be tactful and some will not.
I had another one of ‘those’ conversations with my wife: if I get a DWI, shot and killed while impersonating a bank robber, or die in a horrible misunderstanding involving a case of stolen pepperoni, I want her to tell everyone. Publicly. On Facebook. Text blast, too – and even email, if the five people who still use it for personal communication are interested. She can just tell a couple of friends who are worse than a 1950s telephone switchboard operator. She can simply add the don’t-tell-anyone clause, thereby guaranteeing immediate repeat and publication on the hidden channels we all use when we find out anything interesting or salacious. I have one family who is so gossipy that people allege she knew about a family member’s death before the family member even kicked the bucket.
Everyone is going to find out, anyway. Worse, they’ll write, DM, private message, text, call, Skype, or ask 3,587 people what happened until they find out. We all have that one acquaintance who will resort to kidnapping and extortion to find out what we know. It’s easier to spill the beans before the water-boarding commences. Death is a resounding knock on everyone’s door. It is one of the two unifying life experiences we are all guaranteed to share. It is hard-wired into our genetic makeup to ask and inquire.
I’m already going to be hurt, dead, or otherwise encumbered by whatever it is that people want to know about. That people know immediately in no way worsens the situation. In many circumstances, it will improve the sanity of those around me. If whatever happens to me isn’t my fault, there shouldn’t be any embarrassment about it. If whatever happens to me is my fault, it still happened – and everyone is going to find out about it. I just hope I’m wearing clean underwear.
If no one is sure why someone passed, then simply say that. I experienced this same horrific uncertainty myself years ago. Even after getting some answers, all my questions weren’t addressed. It’s okay to say, “We don’t know” if the reasons and details aren’t clear. You can of course also say, “It’s none of your business,” which is the equivalent of throwing gasoline on a fire and ensuring that the person will not rest under the ‘why’ of it is uncovered.
Watching this particular incident unfold once again proves to me a LOT of people were seeking answers behind the scenes. One group was working to find out what happened. The other, of course, was working to keep the details secret, which means that about 1/2 of those whispering were finding out through informal sources. In short, everyone is going to know.
I knew that if I used my particular skills and punched away at it, that I would find someone who knew and had posted on social media. I did so, because I was asked to. Using the most arcane and plodding system you can imagine, I found a post from two days after the incident involving the acquaintance. The route I used to find it resembled a map hand-drawn by a cocaine addict after nine days without sleep. The person posting knew the family by acquaintance. She had been given a minimal explanation, probably in hopes of dissuading further questions. It didn’t, of course. She passed along what she knew. The family of the deceased didn’t overlap much with the person sharing the information so the Control Headquarters For Family Information couldn’t stifle the sharing.
Before you launch into a weird ‘privacy’ argument, it’s important that you remember that the word you’re using doesn’t mean what you think it does. The same holds true for etiquette, manners, or decorum. In the same way that the first question following death is, “What did he or she die from?” attempting to conceal details is only going to make it look like you’ve got something to hide or that an element of shame is involved. Again, yes, of course, it is your right to say nothing. Saying nothing, though, brings consequences too.
It’s true that it is considered bad manners to ask about someone’s death if you are not directly connected. Our brains, though, continue to seek an answer even when etiquette tells us to shut up.
Equally important for you to understand is that I earned this viewpoint in the most horrific manner possible. It’s one of the reasons I’m so hardcore about it. It’s not that people have a right to know your business. I’m not making that argument. People will know your business, though, even if you miss the whispers and back channel communications. I am, however, shouting at you that trying to keep anything quiet is the equivalent of having a picnic and bbq in the trunk of your car during rush hour.
I didn’t come by my opinion lightly.
Got a DWI? Yes, everyone’s talking about it.
Sick? People will feel immense sympathy and many will reach out to help. But they still want to know.
Talk? Yes, of course. Every single time. About everything and anything.
When our social groups were smaller, concealment of the particulars was impossible. In our larger world, one fueled by communication, people still feel that need to know.
You don’t have to like it or embrace it.
Ignore it, though? At your peril.
If I die unexpectedly and the people around me are being coy about it, you can be sure that I died horrifically, as if I suddenly started liking Donald Trump or became a fan of milk as a beverage, watching sports, or testing high voltage wires with my tongue.
You are welcome to make up any story you want to.
Because you’re going to anyway.
And you should – if the people left behind when I sprint off into the unknown won’t tell you what stupid thing I did to hasten my demise.
The Secrecy Ricochet Certainty
Divulging private information immediately invariably lessens the quantity and intensity of the inquiries which otherwise result in an avalanche.
If you vaguepost on social media, it’s important that you understand that doing so gives me the right to creatively fill-in-the-blank to anyone, anywhere, about what you’re actually talking about. I’ll be the Rudy Giuliani for your personal news.
Most of us squint our eyes when we see a vaguepost. “What in the heck is he or she talking about?” Of course, our guesses immediately turn darkly comedic, ranging from ‘arrested in Thailand‘ to ‘hid the body in the swamp in Monroe County.’ It’s your fault. Despite all the food and vacation photos, we often assume that you’re just one mojito away from becoming a prison pen pal.
I’ll preface my news by saying, “I heard,” as in “I heard from the voices in my head.” You should never willingly provide an opportunity for someone like me to provide an explanation that you won’t share yourself. I will gladly be the Gossip Girl. With Tourettes.
Social media works best when you use it to communicate to eliminate doubt. On the other hand, it works really well when your intent is to say something highly crazy, such as “Sports are really important,” or “Here’s my opinion on politics, religion, and the best type of beer to drink.”
If you choose to do otherwise, don’t be surprised when everyone who knows you say they heard that you burned down your house while trying a new meth recipe.
If you’re not going to use social media to concisely inform us about important and actual goings-on in your life, I request that you vaguepost about every other topic in life, too. Let’s keep it consistent, unlike the mashed potatoes you make for Thanksgiving.
I’ll your ignore this admonition, I’ll use a random list of buzzwords to fill in the blanks you’ve left: pregnant (regardless of sex), arrested, hoof-and-mouth disease, and LSD-induced, all to keep your friends, family, and school classmates from 30 years ago entertained. And that guy Steve, the one who lurks and accidentally hits like on your 2008 beach photos.
While it is your account and you can post literally any nonsense that you want to, as I obviously do myself, you’re only making your situation worse.
You’re welcome. X
P.S. I’m sorry I told your mom that you hit the preacher over the head with a guitar.
Many of these words could be wrong. I wrote them after seeing a couple of friends make impassioned and yet illogical claims regarding social media. I’m not writing these words to sway opinion. I’m writing them to exorcize them out of my head. I should take more time to get the ideas ‘just right.’ But I’m not going to. In part, this is because it’s exactly the way social media works best when done correctly. Perfection and the pursuit of it is one aspect of social media that we all find a bit suspicious. It’s okay to make errors. We do it all day every day whether we have social media to amplify it.
If you’re asking if social media is a good thing or bad thing, the answer is “Yes.” Regardless of merit, we tend to self-destruct using every other thing in our lives. We carry the dichotomy inside us. Because social media is primarily on newer devices, it seems as if the concerns inherent in it are new. They’re not. They’re simply disguised under shiny new packages under the same old calloused fingers and jaundiced minds.
It’s weird to me that people talk about deleting their social media. Per Nike, “Just Do It.” Talking about it is a symptom that you’re exactly the person who is using the platform in a way that isn’t healthy. If you’re not sure, delete it for a bit. It’ll be there when you want it to be, no matter how long your absence. Much in the same way that it’s impossible to go to the gym without talking about it, many people can’t seem to simply exercise a choice without confusing their reasons for doing so. If you find yourself looking up from your interactions and finding unhappiness, do something to change it. Just as some have an aversion to alcohol, some people might not be hard-wired to engage the complexity of unlimited interaction.
Being evangelical about your decision sounds a little weird to the rest of us, much in the same way as someone shouting about the dangers of drinking. It’s possible to drink responsibly and enjoy life a little more. The same is true of social media. Your truth might be that you can’t even sip from the bottle without your life spiraling. It’s not our truth and certainly not universal.
I’m surprised that everyone doesn’t use social media to connect to people they might not ever meet, confederates in ideas or causes you probably won’t find in your real life. Many people, like me, find it to be a gateway to people that we’d love to surround us if such a thing were within our grasp.
I’ve yet to personally know anyone who has deleted Facebook who hasn’t used another platform to quench their voyeurism. I know people who c-l-a-i-m it’s not true but a little forensic sleuthing proves otherwise. For those who know me well, you also know that this isn’t an exaggeration. I’ve done my homework. Of all those who claim they’ve shut it all down, none have really done so. They’ve simply substituted one brand for another. It’s not the app or platform specifically that is your problem. In a roundabout way, it’s your addiction to your device and the method you choose to interact with what you see and hear when using it.
You might look at social media and see danger. It’s true, it can be. So can answering the phone, talking to strangers, or walking unknown streets after dark. I see the breadth of possibility, of creation, of ideas. It’s a portable way to interact with every single person on the planet, if you choose to do so.
So many of our digital systems have social media embedded inside them, whether it is a forum, comment section, or another method of interaction. The idea of social media as a separate entity is misguided. It cannot be measured separately from the rest of our human interactions, even if you remove all the devices.
Social media is one of our biggest creations precisely because of its ubiquity and reach. It both delights and angers us – just like every human interaction out in the real world. Some of us can’t take a drink without downing the entire bottle. Some can’t make a wager without losing their houses. Other people can’t see information they disagree with without being personally accused. All of our methods of communication contain a method of destruction if we are not in control of ourselves.
Looking back into history, it’s safe to say that all major paradigm shifts in society caused the same learning curve for all of us. These include mass-produced newspapers, radio, TV, and movies. Technology is the same challenge packaged in a different container. Because I grew up in a very rural county, I lived in houses without telephones and in houses with party lines. Among my ancestors were many who preached that the telephone was going to destroy civilization and that it would allow people to stop visiting their family and friends. They were certain that front porches and living room parlors would be empty. Instead, the telephone opened up an entirely new way to stay closer than ever to those who matter. Some of those same ancestors also remembered the same fears with cars. They’d believed that no would slow down long enough to appreciate life if they ride in a car.
Some of incorrectly think it’s a new challenge. It’s not. We are the challenge, precisely because we as humans are using the biggest communication system in the world in a way that doesn’t empower us.
“I don’t watch TV,” people used to say.
“I don’t use social media,” people now say.
Yes, you do. And even if you don’t, you’re on it.
Welcome to the world you can’t reject.
Use it as you see fit or choose not to use it. As for whether social media is a good or bad thing, the answer is definitely “yes.”
Just like us. Just like our choices.
I know it’s fashionable to say, “I’m leaving Facebook,” especially for the seemingly never-ending data scandals.
But for those who don’t know, Facebook (and most other media companies) can and will follow you across your life, even if you’ve never had a social media account of any kind. I’ve written so much about the unicorn of privacy that I find it impossible to believe that someone thinks they have privacy if they are using electronic devices of any kind.
If you close your social media accounts, it will have almost no effect on the quantity and quality of information collected about you. Your behavior and history are unflinching indicators of everything about your life. Even non-electronic information is being used, so unless you opt for a life in a shadowy cave, there’s no escape from being included in the heap of other consumers.
Yes, you might be leaving Facebook, but it’s not leaving you. And neither are any of the other companies watching you. (FB and Google directly control about 70% of the entire digital ad market.) Whoever you use for your internet is allowed to sell your history.
You might as well set fire to your own underpants.
We’ll film it and upload your fire dance to social media for you, though.
Amazon will show you an ad for burn cream or new underwear to let you know they’re interested in your well-being and business.
Dubious Social Media Safety : while your friend list should be set to invisible, it’s good for your reputation if all your real friends are actually visible.
I went through the process to be vetted to run political ads and content on Facebook’s platform. (Which, as you may or may not know, isn’t limited to the site itself.
Because of the fallout from the 2016 debacle otherwise known as the election, Facebook instituted some exacting rules to ensure that people and organizations are whom they claim to be – and live where they claim to. The rules don’t affect what you post on your private pages; rather, they affect what you post on pages you control and advertising platforms you access. Facebook reaches a couple of billion people. In some respects, it is the biggest communication platform in our shared human history.
Regardless of what content is on Facebook’s platform, it is our responsibility, not theirs, to use our brains in the way they were designed. We don’t adopt attitudes or prejudices at gunpoint; we are the guilty party in almost every case in which advertising is claimed to have been misused. It’s too glib to blame Russia or Facebook for undue influence. We own our collective stupidity.
The 2016 election proved that voting sometimes has less power when compared the reach of a determined voice, even if the voice is shouting disinformation. You can get your opinion and voice heard more effectively than by voting or arguing in a closed system. Even though we know that shouting doesn’t work to change minds, only cement them, we still do it, instead of using appeals to humor, persuasion, and targeted communication.
The most persuasive voice is another human presence, one of open mind and ear. The only sermon or speech which spreads your message is one of example. As we learned from the last election, the next best thing is a communication platform which allows anyone to reach a staggering number of people. The effect is amplified when people are engaging with passion at the expense of their intelligence.
You’ve read my words and creations in other places, many times without realizing that they were mine. You shouldn’t assume that they were the ideas, words, or images you would expect from me, either. None of us is the imagined version in the minds of others.
In an open society, that’s perhaps the best way. The best idea should be given consideration, even if it is disruptive to the beliefs and certainties we all cling to. Buried in the illusion of tribal affiliations of today, we automatically flinch and recoil away from the opportunity to hear new information. Our motto should always be: “I change my mind with new information.” This tendency is necessary for learning and growing. The greater our tendency to fight against flexibility, the more likely we’ll experience a breakage. 7 billion people in the world demand that we stop seeing ourselves as the torchbearer for truth.
I rarely share anything from another source on social media. It’s almost exclusively mine, even if it only my opinion, full of error and disinterest. Much of the problem with social media is that it is too tempting and too easy to use others to give voice to our presence. Much of the time, the voice we choose is whispering – or shouting – information which is slanted, incorrect, or completely false.
This is part of the reason why it is amusing to think that I now can anonymously sway your opinion across the entire platform of social media. The last election demonstrated the power and reach of interactive content. Why hack the vote when we can convince large groups of people that up is down or that everyone falls into neat categories of political and religious ideology? Obviously, most of us don’t recognize that we are being swayed or led astray – that’s precisely why it is such a powerful tool. All of us feel immune to it. Reality proves otherwise.
All of us, every day, see information on social media that we know isn’t true. We think, “What an idiot!” We rarely stop to consider that the idiot in our scenario is often us in the other idiot’s mind.
P.S. Facebook has trusted me to access your eyes, ears, and minds. Good luck to you all. It’s my turn to be the idiot. You’ll find me all over the internet, thanks to the largest communication project ever created. You’re welcome.
I was asked to write an unsolicited rebuttal of something frequently witnessed on social media. These words and thoughts aren’t perfect, nor do I intend them to be.
Each time I see someone complaining about social media being too bright and shiny or unrealistic, I try to visit those people’s social media page(s).
As you can guess, when I visit the social media of the person mentioned above, it is difficult to find any posts which reveal the soul or character of the person – and almost all of the pictures are polished Kodak moments, with $10,000 smiles filled with perfect teeth. Most are devoid of crafted personal stories or substantive glimpses into their days as human beings. There’s never a picture of them enjoying a delicious bite of questionable food over a dimly-lit sink, wearing mismatched cat socks, or an admission of honest tomfoolery or klutziness. You’ll find an album of 178 wedding day photos, but none of the family on the day the judge finalizes the divorce. Nor will there be a copy of the mugshot of the husband for his second DWI. People rarely discuss their honest doubts or openly share the beliefs they hold which trouble them. Tears are always joyful and never from injustice, defeat is a happy lesson, and houses always pristinely decorated and sleek. (Even though we know you have a room, closet, garage or attic filled with some erratic craziness that you don’t like people seeing.)
I don’t know how to say this artfully or with aplomb, so I’ll just say it: most of these refrains are from people with double-car garages and more than one kind of coffee machine in their homes.
Life is messy, with moments of breath-taking beauty and also days of anguish.
….more house shoes than Versace and more plain spaghetti than vermicelli.
Somewhere between the extremes, though, is the balance of the two in which you live your life and upon which most of your memory rests.
Social media is based on the most democratic of ideas: each of us can share, interact, and express ourselves within the boundaries of the parameters we ourselves define.
Like so many other things, most of the flaws of social media are worsened by use, one comment, post, or picture at a time. We decide what kind of social media we want. I’m confused by complaints about social media when it is literally that person’s choice to reflect his or her preferences on their social media pages.
Social media isn’t a glossy magazine; it’s the flyer someone hands you on the sidewalk, one constantly adjusting to us. The difference is that all of us create its content.
If you don’t want to create or share, of course that is okay. Withhold your snark about the content other people choose to share or your opinion that it’s all shiny and unrealistic snapshots of other people.
If you seek a different way, light the way ahead and we will follow your lead.
I’m guessing that the posts complaining about the phoniness of social media will never abate, just as people will invariably watch “The Bachelor,” yet glibly tell you that they watched, and loved, the latest installment of “60 Minutes.”