Thursday, June 2, 2011

What Have We Become, Twitter?...

Sometimes I feel like I've wandered back to high school, or perhaps even further back to junior high. But no, I have not found a way into the Fringe alternate universe, nor has Castiel touched my head and shot me back a decade or so. Instead, I simply log onto Twitter and my world erupts around me in a way to which I never thought I'd see a return.

What I think is so fascinating about the social media medium, other than the fact, of course, that no one can hold in a thought any longer, is that our judgement gets further suspended. Simply by the title of "social media," it is obvious that the point is to be able to converse with others and share our thoughts. And that should be fine; it should be inviting; it should be a way to finally turn off the criticism that computers create a world of isolation. Sites like Twitter definitely allow this sense of interaction, for better and for worse, and lately, unfortunately, it seems like it is for worse. Of society and of us as mature, responsible, and productive members of said society.

Twitter has this way of getting under a person's skin. Often, those who say they don't see the purpose initially get caught up in the accessibility of so many (including celebrities) and become addicted almost immediately upon joining. But even more often (at least lately and at least in my world of entertainment bloggers), it has this uncanny ability to take those who manage to seem so professional in their daily (and sometimes corporate) lives and cut them down to a more primal way of protecting one's self. When you share an opinion on there that someone else doesn't agree with, the instinct is to go on the defensive and reply. But the thing is, those replies are public and just make everyone who sees them want to yell "FIGHT!"

So many still seem more inclined to resort to name-calling, sharing personal details that fall under the category of T.M.I., and cheap ploys to receive the validation their parents probably denied them during their formative years. And it's a true shame because while the site can be used for real good, such as spreading the word about charitable causes or breaking important political or weather news, it ultimately ends up as a playground. And without some kind of "room parent" looking over shoulders and making sure no one makes too low a blow, well, pettiness abounds. Apparently even in seemingly capable hands, Twitter turns us to children.

I see it in fans; I see it in friends; I even see it in celebrities who probably should have publicists policing and approving their content. They beg for @replies or additional followers; they post vague details to keep people guessing (and constantly checking their page); they kiss each others' asses at times, too. It creates relationships that aren't really there; it makes people think they are friends with people they don't really know. South Park actually best showcased this with their Facebook farce episode of last season. I'm sure they'll have a field day with Twitter, too. And I certainly wish I could be around in one hundred years when modern communities look back on studies done about this technology and this time.

Is it an "Average Joe"s way of getting their fifteen minutes of fame, even if in a tightly contained bubble of followers? Maybe. It certainly feels like just how some actors and reality personalities are constantly chasing the tabloids-- calling them to tip them where they'll be shopping or setting up deals to sell wedding photos or create reality shows around their special should-be-family-only occasions, the need is to reach out and share our lives with literal strangers. When we would probably be much better served to just turn to someone actually in our lives and open up.

What baffles me the most is how people often don't stop to think that what they put on Twitter (or anywhere online, really) is public domain. Even if they have second thoughts and delete the Tweet a minute later, it has already been out in the ether, sent to hundreds, if not thousands, of eyeballs all around the globe. And you better believe it might have been screencapped, especially if super salacious or passive aggressive. But its digital footprint is permanent deep in the site's index, as well as your own IP. So if someone really wanted to dig it up later and use it against you, they can quite easily.

But let's face it: if you're putting something out there publicly, you should probably stop and think before you hit send anyway. Is it something that could be used against you? Is it something that could hurt someone? Is it something that could hurt you-- your reputation, your standing amongst your friends and your peers, your intelligence? If the answer is yes to any of those, and especially if it is a dig at another person, however cleverly veiled you think it may be, you probably shouldn't be posting it at all. Not only is Twitter one of the first sites that will come up when you Google a person's name (and just about every potential employer these days does at least a simple Google search before scheduling interviews), but out of common decency, if you have a problem, you should take it up with the person directly rather than go around their back and call them out in front of a huge group.

Even, as I said a minute ago, if you think you are taking it up with a person directly (by @replying them), that is still public enough. It still shows up on your profile page, and it still shows up in the feeds of anyone who follows both of you.

People do notice, and people do care.

Take it offline just like how in the good ole days kids used to take it to the schoolyard. One on one, settling the beef however possible, once and for all. Then shake hands and move on. Don't stew over it with your followers-- because they are just that: they are people who literally follow your every word. Some may hang on to each more than others, but over time, let's face it, you hang onto their responses and reactions, too. It is not a true leader-follower relationship; it is mob mentality-- and a quite co-dependent one at that.

My third grade teacher once reprimanded me for instigating some kind of less than savory behavior from another girl in my class. She took me aside and simply told me that I was a natural leader, and people were looking to me for how to behave in certain situations. They might not have wanted to be like me, but they trusted my judgement. It was a big responsibility, she said, but I had to choose whether I was going to use it wisely-- responsibly-- or if I was going to squander the opportunity. Her words have always stuck with me, and they never seem truer now because what we say on sites like Twitter has the power to literally lead people to action. Whether we use it for good or not all literally lies in our fingertips.

This all sounds like perfect common sense to me, so I feel a bit dumb writing it down here like it's some kind of amazing new discovery. And I am not claiming to be completely clean of ever having broken some of these rules myself. But I feel like it is getting worse lately. I feel like we'd all rather be snarky and negative and competitive with each other, and that makes me really sad.

In the early days of the internet, so many would sit behind their computer screens and be absolutely vicious to each other on forums or message boards or fan sites. There was a sense of anonymity back then, and that created a freedom to express (oftentimes really negative) opinions without repercussions. Anonymity is a bit cowardly, admittedly, but it can be far more detrimental today, in an online world in which it is increasingly harder to hide your true identity.

Don't get me wrong: I still love Twitter. It is still one of my main forms of promoting my writing, be it interviews, reviews, or my book, which I'm still trying to sell more and more copies of (and if you'd like to start following me now, I promise to keep it clean; keep it professional; and keep it mature. It's not as boring as it sounds!). But in the immortal words of Mean Girls, "I just wish I could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat and be happy..." And, you know, awesome TV that was sadly canceled before its time could be magically resurrected.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

I can understand what you are saying. The 'tone' of Twitter has changed of late ;it has picked up, got faster, become nastier somehow.
'Tweet's' now all seem to have an agenda and its leaving me cold. Twitter has indeed become a playground and not a nice playground at that.
I think we all need to get outside more........
Lisa x