I am coming to realize that many who read this blog may not know or have forgotten that I have degrees in Computer Science and that I have a fairly long history of involvement with electronic communications methods.
I have watched the rise (and fall) of newsgroups, discussion boards, blogs and all sorts of social media. The more things change with these tools, the more they stay the same. Usually, there is a very short 'golden age' where the people who have found the tool make great use of it. But, then the tool follows a typical cycle.
Initially, people begin to flock to the 'latest thing' to reconnect with their friends. After an initial contact, most participants start getting lazy and begin to share material they did not create - often flooding the channel with item after item after item... A small subset of people set themselves up to be over-achievers, seeking some sort of stardom by creating content for the platform. Many of these actively seek approval by getting others share THEIR stuff instead of somebody else's stuff. "Trolls" appear and start pushing buttons, looking to start conflict (I remember when these were called 'flame wars'). And that often seems to be the only time people get re-motivated to use their own words - when they have a chance to take sides. Especially if they have a chance to make someone else look or feel bad.
Pretty soon, it's all noise. And the only things participants seem to want to read are things that are sensationalized or that serve an agenda that is currently at the top of their list. And the trolls? They're still out there. Continuing to fan the flames and sitting back to enjoy the havoc that follows.
Despite all of this, I find myself continuing to seek out ways that I can cultivate words so that they might plant more seeds that grow into something amidst all of the static. I suppose I could do what everyone else does and let a host of the pre-written messages do the talking for me, but I prefer to write my own words - only periodically grabbing a meme or a quote that I particularly enjoy to supplement what I write. And I don't normally concern myself about encouraging people to share the things I write. I guess I prefer to believe that the quality will speak for itself?
Why do you think that is?
First, I prefer to believe that things are always far more complex than we are often willing to admit. My feelings about anything of substance are often just as complex as the topic itself. In fact, those feelings may not be fully known to me. As I consider the words I might want to write, I give myself an opportunity to explore what really matters to me and what I want to know more about. I provide myself with an opportunity to learn, to change my mind and/or to affirm and refine what I believe.
I cultivate the words so I can grow.
If the words I write were only influenced by what is in my head, then I suspect I would learn nothing new. So, I look for others who cultivate words and I look for sources that provide facts and support learning. Often I prefer primary sources and actual studies or the language of bills being proposed in our lawmaking bodies. Why? Because I want to learn the facts so I can come to my own conclusions.
I combine all that with my own observations and then I look at what other people are saying. I'll admit that sometimes the whole process starts because someone makes a provocative statement and a bunch of people jump on board to "say what they think." But, I work hard to back up before I am tempted to 'engage.'
I took a brief moment today and sampled five different "provocative posts" in social media today. Each of those posts had a link to some sort of article. I went to each article and read it. Then, I read the comments. It was clear that nine out of ten people who felt it important to post on the topic had NOT read the articles. They had merely come to their own conclusion based on the often misleading title or provocative statement provided in the post.
I now work for an organization that realizes it has to use social media to get attention for the things it advocates for. There is a very real tension between trying to find words, phrases and images that are accurate and representative and balancing them with words, phrases and images that will get people to actually pay even a little attention to the problem and the possible solutions.
I wish we had a better forum than social media to communicate - because more often than not - we end up e-miscommunicating using this so-called media. More and more, I feel that social media is about promoting anti-social behaviors rather than actually connecting people in meaningful ways.
Through all of these iterations of electronic communications, I
have always found myself trying to be the peace-maker. Seeking the
common ground and hoping to find ways for a wide range of views to be
allowed with a civil discussion rather than name-calling and derogatory
comments. I doggedly seek to make these tools forums for real conversations that build up, rather than tear down.
In each and every instance, I have come away disappointed, disillusioned and very weary of it all.And yet, here I am. Trying again. Either because I am absurd or I see something in this word that is better than what it is showing right now. You can decide which it is for yourselves.
So - a new challenge to you, if you use social media. Read the link before you comment. Check your facts before you post. Consider whether you might actually have it in your own personal arsenal the ability to communicate better than an insensitive meme or sharing a post that describes anyone else in derogatory or unflattering terms.
I think you can do it. And so can I.