(Anti)Social Media?

And in a moment, in an instant, it was over. Almost ten years after the Sopranos took our breath away, Breaking Bad did it again. But this finale would be markedly different. It would be different because despite watching the show end on our own televisions, in our own intimate space, we would share our viewing experience with millions around the nation at the very same time.

The phenomena plays out over several different similar scenarios, or what are essentially cultural events. But what makes these events so interesting is that they take on a whole new level of intensity. Social media, namely Twitter, has made sharing opinions, experiences and relation to one another so much easier than ever before. This weeks phenomena is Breaking Bad. Next weeks may be something else (however on a smaller scale). In February, we will watch another Super Bowl. Eventually, as DC does nothing about gun-control, we are bound to come together via Social Media again as a nation to mourn another gun tragedy.

But have we really come together? Does sharing ones opinion on a social network validate that feeling or experience? Does the even more informal method of re-tweeting someone’s opinion of an event create any sort of sense of kinship or relationship with that individual? On a deeper level, it cannot possibly do so. It exists, to use Twitter’s slogan as a mode to “start the conversation.” But it’s not just about starting the conversation as much as how we actually converse.

Breaking Bad and its finale is a moment which drew together millions, only those millions of people would never share an actual word with one another. In fact, most people conversing about Breaking Bad on Twitter aren’t even directly talking to one another. Twitter is incredibly convenient in the ways it brings people together, but it is also incredible for the way that very convenience also breeds isolation. In a way, when we tweet, we are talking to ourselves. We are starting the conversation, but it seems people rarely are conversing back. We have no way of really knowing what people think of our thoughts or whether they even read them. It literally just begins to become noise amid the chaos after a while. I can’t even say I read all the Tweets in my time line, for there’s too little time. And so we become selective in what events we discuss, who we respond to and what we engage with online.

Twitter and social media has transcended the traditional perception of space and time. We like to feel that tweeting about an event has fostered some sort of kinship or communal experience, but it has not. We like to think that those 75 minutes watching Breaking Bad was spent as if millions were in our living rooms, but they were not. We exist as a sort of cyborg-like being, communicating via cell phones and computerized extensions of ourselves on events from TV finales to national tragedies. It has psychologically altered the perception of space and time.

Of course further analysis would have us realize that all this social behavior is actually rather anti-social. And yes, I know this point has been made before. Psychologists and the everyman swear that disconnecting is a good thing. But on that I also disagree. As with everything in life, it is about balance. And so we must learn to correct our perception of space and time and place that into context for what social media is actually for.

We have grasped onto these fleeting cultural experiences to try and be more communal but have in effect reduced the meaningfulness of these events. We have reduced the meaningfulness because we haven’t actually shared any experience with a physical person. That disconnect cannot possibly be overcome, no matter how personal any conversation or exchange online or via cell can get. Without actually chatting with a co-worker, speaking with a friend, there is no real way to contextualize any relationship or direct sense of community. The community exists, but it is limited by the space and time confinements it presents contrasted to a traditional community.

This is completely true of online friendships as well. More and more, Twitter, Facebook and other social media has led to a wave of online-only friendships. Message boards, Twitter and other blogging services allow us the chance to interact and really even get to know one another. But are we really interacting? We are interacting through a brick wall at best. All the subtle nuances, body language, tone of voice is eroded by online only communication. And this sort of interaction has an impact on the way we perceive and exchange cultural events as well.

And so when the Sopranos left air, I remember it. I remember it well because there was no social media to distort my perception of the space and time with regard to the actual event. It was a major cultural event, but one which in comparison to tonights Breaking Bad finale seems small. But is it small? No, absolutely not. In fact, Vince Gilligan made reference to that finale in his finale appearance on Talking Bad. The reason it seems small is because social media ultimately makes it so much larger than it necessarily is. And when these events happen often enough on this scale, their meaning and sense of importance is sort of distorted.

And so from cultural events to interpersonal communication, social media enhances but also distorts the experience. I love Twitter, in fact I owe a great deal of gratitude for its existence. I’ve had the opportunity to have conversation with a favorite filmmaker of mine, and showcase my writing. But at the same time, I’ve never met them face to face. And so this exchange is limited and can even lead to misunderstandings. I could know any number of things about an individual from conversation online, but there is so much more to communication and interaction than an online exchange, or even less formally, a 140 character tweet. Much gets lost in translation.

And so I conclude this post with a question, do you really feel social on social media? And if you’ve gotten at “no, not really,” follow that question with why. The answer is likely that social media can never replace classic human interaction. We as humans are gregarious beings, who need to have contact with one another beyond a virtual screen. And so as technology further distorts space and time, we must remember to always keep grounded. If we spend too much time online, social media quickly can become anti-social media. And that defeats its purpose entirely, for social media exists as a new convenient method to foster classic human contact.

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