Note: Since I doubt any reader would go back over the old corpus I will repeat my prologue, with ruffles and flourishes, in each post of this thread.
I continue on my journey of discussing the wired world (aka, digital_nation, or, more specifically social media), by using a series of excellent posts from Dr. Tracy Dennis to stimulate any appurtenance my experience can provide. As I’ve I said before there are people, such as Dr. Dennis, who are pursuing this topic through serious and professional scientific investigation and so these are the people you should listen to, but I figure I can sometimes add some different color to the ideas due to having basically been involved in digital technology from its early public days.
Next in reverse chronological order is the post Parenting and Multi-tasking in the digital age. Now being neither a parent nor having real knowledge of parenting there is little I can add. Many years ago, as a manager (in some ways not unlike being a parent) I used to continue to look at my screen while I listened to someone speaking to me over the wall of my cubicle. I didn’t see anything wrong with this as I really could listen and multitask but in a reverse review process it turns out this was one area my staff complained about me the most, not looking at them while they were talking. As this was an easy thing to change I mostly did. I now find it amusing to go to informal family parties and, for a while until I got a my mobile device as defense, to go a long time without anyone looking at me (or anyone else) because their eyes were buried in their device. In these family gatherings there is a new infant; it is fascinating how much this infant is interested in looking at people’s face. So, while I’m probably misinterpreting it, I can certainly see how Dr. Dennis’ description of “mirroring” is critical to children. And interestingly in those family gathering that infant is about the only person that can get the people to put their devices down.
So moving on Mama’s Always on Stage, I initially thought that again this content would be far outside my experience, but there are a number of point I want to pursue. First let’s see how Dr. Dennis frames this:
The notion is that when we use social media, the things we do and say, the way we look, and the things we find interesting seem to have a heightened importance and to be under scrutiny. … So, psychologically, we’re always on stage, in the spotlight. And if we’re always on stage, then maybe, on some level, we are acting and not being fully authentic. …
And this is what is new about social media compared to previous ways of connecting with others – we can share just about anything, via a wide range of media, extremely easily. We can be seen and heard whenever we want.
Well we can try to (“be seen and heard“), but as I’ve commented, is anybody really listening? Or does the fact that what we “publish” is out there and might be seen or heard and therefore we “perform” for our imaginary audience. This is what is difference about social media – there are no editors to judge us and decide whether we can be seen or heard. And, yes, that puts us “on stage“, but for most of us it’s a mighty small stage. Now I concur that most people put out their content on social media in order to be seen and heard, to somehow connect with others beyond what traditional means provided. But this lack of filtering means that quantity of content has skyrocketed and overwhelms our potential listeners.
If we get any attention at all it has to be just a few milliseconds that others can spare. Nonetheless that invisible audience, unavailable to most of us before the Net (not just social media since Usenet provided exactly the same facility decades ago), makes us feel like we’re in the spotlight. Now if you’re been in any kind of public Net discussions for very long you do learn to think before speaking. Certainly our digital dribbles go to many who will not look on what we say as kindly as those polite souls before in F2F conversation. Many have learned that exposing yourself just draws attacks (or other kinds of abuse) and therefore to be cautious. The kiddies that haven’t learned this WILL, soon enough.
So most experienced (or just sensible) people will avoid some amount of “authenticity.” The legal warning of “what you say can and will be used against you” does apply. So clearly we learn to edit our raw ramblings and recognize that social media is probably the worst place in the world to be candid. I hated the discussions in the old, and simpler, Usenet days because whatever correct, genuine and relevant point you made would be lost in nitpicking about spelling, or grammar, or some other trivial thing. The Net simply does not encourage discussion but it clearly encourages argument, usually degenerating into pointless personal attacks and debates over the most trivial bit of your ideas. So, IMHO, online discussion (whatever the venue) sooner or later encourages us to create a mere cardboard cutout of our real self so that the attacks fall on the virtual me, not the real me.
Dr. Dennis goes on to discuss the self-publishing fad that (some) parents think is now yet another reward they must provide to their fantastic offspring – good stuff, by itself, for another post, but as Dr. Dennis connects this to her main thread I think it fits (an electronic post is not enough, some old dead trees publications is required as well).
I think there are no clear answers to these issues. I do, however, think that most of us would agree that being on stage is a deeply rooted impulse in our culture today … I’m not saying this impulse is new, or necessarily bad, but the more central the psychological spotlight becomes to how we all operate, the more we need to take time to understand what it means.
I wonder? Is something so new “deeply rooted”? – or like many things are we just absorbed in the novelty of the thing. In most of human history ordinary people had zero chance of being heard even 10 miles away, but now we have this global soapbox. So, of course, we’ve jumped in, as witnessed by the huge number of blogs and other discussion platforms. But when we learn that others are mostly not listening, what then? – does the novelty outweigh the effort? When it comes to something new, given most people talking on the Net are adults, do we just revert to that 3YO who innocently and in wonder of the world and their own existence wants attention. We’re naive and innocent and so assume that others actually care about what we say, but at the 3YO will learn it’s not often that way.
I started talking “publicly” several decades ago. I was excited that the topics that interested me and bored those around me would be shared by some remote “others.” Somewhere were people that wanted to have the same discussion I wanted to have. As was recommended to be helpful to one’s career I first made a substantial effort talking about PostScript (where I was nominally an expert). I spent months answering newbies’ questions and debating with the other nominal experts. And what did this produce, for the considerable work it required – very little. The newbies got their questions answered and went on about their life, the experts continued to compete for who could show off the most, and nothing really changed.
I do a Net-based recreation called geodashing. Talk about an esoteric topic. Now about 0.000001% of the world is interested in this, but one might assume that the only people who’d want to discuss it would be this 0.000001%. In fact general talk on a dedicated geodashing board is discouraged. We present our reports and rarely comment on them, just the facts, ma’am. Now if other geodashers don’t want to hear my stories, who would?
And so it will be, IMHO, with most discussion in a “free” media. Every now and then something one says may catch another’s attention, but mostly the words fall as sparse rain on the desert, to be remembered only by a mindless disk drive on a server somewhere – magnetic dust. So I believe, as we all mature in our use of this new technology, we will find that our stage is actually quite small and less than we hoped. The posts that will be remembered will be those that provide practical information or represent the corpus of people who are otherwise distinguished anyway and the ramblings of our everyday ordinary life will just spin away on some disk drive.