At what point does your social content become narcissism?
Social media is a major transformation of interpersonal dynamics. It’s at once personal; professional; marketing; word of mouth; fun; newsy; all that; and a bag of chips. We’ve all seen the infographics. Mobile social networking has created a high velocity version of those age-old affinities between people to share, support and engage. Moreover, social networking is an amplifier of such relationships, as it compresses the time between our visits with each other. It even alters a centuries-old dynamic, of leaving behind people as we grow up, like childhood friends or college acquaintances.
But for all that impact, there are a few dilemmas: If we let it, social media can become incessant. And then, narcissistic.
Drawing Some Lines
Over his lifetime, Galileo Galilei, the 17th century Italian prodigy, invented the thermometer, sector, hydrostatic balance, microscope, telescope, identified craters on the moon, phases of Venus, Jupiter’s satellites, and sun’s spots. He wrote seven books. Not bad for a guy born in 1564 who lived for 78 years.
At the time, he was the talk of the town. Today, he’s still well known: Google has 9.2 million references for him. Well deserved, for someone whose contributions brought new meaning and value to the world, and laid important foundations for much of modernity.
By today’s standards, Galileo was a slouch.
At least that’s what we are led to believe by the torrentists of social media, the talking heads who espouse a more, more, more strategy, as the basis of one’s clout and relevance.
More, or boor?
I read recently that a social media expert had hired a personal assistant to shadow him, capture his every word, (and presumably acts, picture-moments, etc.) and digesting them into never-ending social network content. We’re told that such production, ad infinitem, is the wave of the future. Quantity, or ‘micro-content’ will drive others’ awareness of us: Our value will be measured in volume. Ultimately, we’ll be producing constantly.
Going home by 7pm is so 1960s.
It made me wonder: Could it be that we moderns have far more active, creative and productive minds than those Renaissance deadbeats like Galileo, Michelangelo and Da Vinci? Would we even have heard of them, had Justin Bieber, existed in their time? At 19, he has produced over 777m Google entries, 22,000 tweets and a fiefdom of 54,594,899 Facebook fans.
And what of the rest of us mortals, with 130 friends and two hundred tweets: Shall we be consigned to the trash heap of irrelevance?
Mental Histaminic Reaction
Maybe not. As I see it, there’s a huge problem with the idea that we all should produce, produce, produce. When content creation devolves to merely sharing every utterances with people we claim to value, we’ve gone to plaid. We can’t even be certain that people will accept a “stream-of-consciousness” connection with others, once the overall novelty of social networks wears off. We’re already seeing such indications they won’t, such as people taking “Facebook holidays” and culling their connections to reduce the flow of updates.
The desire to filter our streams is driven by a kind of mental histaminic reaction to constant content.
Such a degree of human interconnectedness is unprecedented. It’s only science fiction that imagines a hive-mind; and at much cost. Just as multitasking was debunked as unsustainable, perhaps a similar effect on relationships that become over-connected will emerge. It seems unlikely that commercial relationships will survive attempts to be omni-present in our lives: Consider how many e-newsletters and over-chatty brand accounts you’ve unsubscribed from lately.
Challenging the Production Imperative
We must challenge the idea that there’s a need to create, contribute, repeat, on a daily basis. We should examine the costs that such a production imperative would exert upon our quality of life, our sense of self, and our nervous systems. We all know we can switch off our devices, yet the number of people staring at smartphones while walking down the street demonstrates it’s not that simple.
We have already altered human behavior. What remains is to influence the content of what’s flashing before our eyes.
Very few people can make quality contributions on a daily or hourly schedule. Authors like Peter Drucker or Isaac Asimov were deemed prodigies for producing so much over a lifetime. Artists rest, recharge, and rethink between each opus. The creative brain isn’t a computer: It doesn’t produce quality content on demand, without rest, simply because it’s awake or networked.
Which leaves us with what it does produce. Mundania. It’s the “kitties and ditties” phenomenon that already dominates most networks. Find someone else’s quote, copy it, paste, repeat. Superimpose it on a photo of cute kittens, and be considered clever.
What a shame.
We’ve barely understood social media’s ability to influence social connections and, more critically, to compress time between human encounters. We’re committing more than 1 in 6 minutes to Facebook already; far more, when you add up all networks. That’s a lot of human time; energy; effort. But to what end?
Social networking will exceed the transformation effect of past technologies like the telephone. Still, it’s interesting to note that although people could call anyone more frequently than writing to them, after the initial novelty craze, call frequency slowed. There simply wasn’t enough to talk about to justify calling on the phone every day. Remember screening calls on your answering machine? That was a allergic reaction, too, cured by the use of technology to create space and time between interactions with others.
A Pause Button
Perhaps that’s what social media needs for the future: A pause button. At least, a sense that it’s okay to pause. That the production imperative is a false concept. That not everything we do or say needs to be captured, translated, transmitted. A pause, to let time pass between us. Not because we don’t want be connected, but we prefer to engage when there’s something meaningful to say.
It will be a shame if we let social media move us from engagements that matter, to interactions that are booring.