Wednesday, July 10, 2013

We're All Published Now: Why Social Media is Weird

The internets and I are having a strange relationship right now (God, what a way to start a post...). Partly given all of the NSA and Snowden stories in the news, one may not be too surprised that once again my complicated relationship with social media is... well, complicated. It's gets more so with Facebook's new idea of adding in Graph Search being kind of creepy (and if I need to use Facebook to find out who lives near me so I can become friends with them/internet stalk them, I think there might be a problem).

My use of Tumblr is also getting strange. I find myself going on there less I did during the school year but I also find myself scrolling through my dash like someone mindlessly eating a bag of candy, waiting for some kind of reward or glorious end result but instead merely build up a sugar rush and feel sort of overexcited and queasy. And I'm still terribly uncertain of how I feel about fandom posts sometimes.

This week, for instance, was the week in which pictures surfaced of Tom Hiddleston with a new lady friend and my dash was full of the fandom(s)' reactions. Everything I saw was mostly positive but there were insinuations that other fans were less so and I found myself waxing poetic about public/private issues online and how we live in such an instantaneous time that photos of a celebrity can be show across the world within hours of them begin taken and how utterly, utterly bizarre the world is. (Is this part of having an existential crisis - realizing that everything about everything is actually very bizarre? Like since when did eclectic not mean what I thought it mean? Why don't we all live in tiny houses? (Gina, your hobbitness is showing.) Why is the job application process so much like a lease application process? Why am I so preoccupied with thinking about things all the time?)
Part of my problem is that my life has been utterly ruined changed by studying culture and Shakespeare. If there was a guy who really liked talking about the issues between public and private (conveniently enough in an environment where the idea of property ownership was in flux), that guy was William Shakespeare. Examples: King Lear did a bad job of keeping family affairs out of his work life. Calling people sluts publicly ruins lives. Being a war hero who can't focus on his honeymoon because people keep interrupting him about work stuff causes a lot of strife, especially when you trust people named Iago. Being a war hero also means people expect a lot from you and will probably be upset when you publicly show that you're pretty pissed off with the plebeians. Given that Shakespeare was an actor as well as a writer, it's understandable that he was so interested in the divide between privacy and publicity and when one is acting (a public action) and when one is not and whether this divide is actually clear or really exists at all. (Oh, look - more fuel for the existential crisis! Yes!) Also, Shakespeare is possibly one of the first big artistic celebrities of Western culture and it's interesting to me how much of his writing could be applied to life in the 21st century ideas of the cult of celebrity (which is such a weird phrase, when you think about it), social media, the focus on fame, paparazzi, the press and celebrity news, and immediacy and opinionated-ness of the internet. As the Current's Morning Show segment about social media (called the Throbbing Hive, which I encourage you to check out here) discussed this week, thanks to social media, we're all published now. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr - all of these are publishing sites to express our opinion, to share our photography, to talk about what we're doing. Although this is utterly obvious, it's still strange to thing about it this way, especially when I see countless photos of celebrities with people's reactions written under them on Tumblr. Which has suddenly become weird and foreign to me, despite having done it myself countless times and seeing it everyday. Feeling the need to express your opinion on what a certain celebrity is wearing or what their doing in a photo has always seemed strange but now it's accumulated another certain layer of weirdness given the Hiddleston photos. What does it matter if he's out and about with a lady friend? Do we need to express our opinion on that? Why are people more motivated or at least provide more words when the opinion is negative? Why do we have an opinion and why do we need to share it with the public? What are we trying to say about ourselves when we do that? Why are all my attempts to not have an opinion and reaction foiled by the fact that some part of my mind works faster than another? Why was the photo take in the first place and why was it shared and, specifically, why was it shared on Tumblr? Do the subjects of the photo know it was shared and where? Do they mind that it was shared? Why the focus on these people and not others? And on and on and on...

As you can tell, I'm obviously lots of fun to be around right now, with my rhetorical ramblings.
I started this blog in the hopes of attempting to understand the internet, which very quickly lead me to the realization that I will never understand the internet for the mere reason that I don't understand people. Not entirely at least. Maybe people aren't here to be understood. Maybe we're just here to try and figure things out and do our best at whatever it is that catches our attention. But we still have opinions - clearly, as here I am blogging about it, irony of ironies. I could give psychological rational for all of this (I'm an INFJ which means that I tend to be more judgmental than perceiving) and perhaps more prone to opinion than others. But I think my culture values opinion as well - I'm often asked for it and expected to explain and support any opinion I have. Yet there's still a difference between having opinions and expressing them and how they are expressed. And I am continually interested in the question of why.

So I still don't know how I feel about the photos on Tumblr and maybe that's for the better - maybe I shouldn't have any clear feelings. Maybe a muddled opinion is just fine in this situation - not to say that one opinion is better than another, but that I shouldn't concerned that I don't know.

Oh... look at that. Existential crisis resolved as well :)


  1. I went on Tumblr the other week with an acting friend (who's just graduated) to show her who Dylan O'Brien, Daniel Sharman and other Teen Wolf actors were (as I've recently become a bit obsessed with the show and she hadn't heard of most of their names). She decided to search for the names of some of her classmates, and found it really weird how much she found on some of the lesser-known ones XD.

    In regards to public/private issues online, I don't think the boundary issues are as new as a lot of people seem to make out. I think that when people lived in smaller communities everyone knew everyone else's business anyway, just think of how much gossip you heard whilst in school etc. Most of us no longer live in places where we could know most of the village/town (I used to know everyone by name and sight who lived in my parents area when I was a child, but since people died and moved out etc I now have no idea who most of the people are because there's no need for us to interact, whereas I learnt the previous people's names because they were people my parents and my mother's parents had interacted with a lot), our physical daily lives have become a lot more anonymous. To counter this, we've expanded our networks onto the internet, where we've become a lot less anonymous. People are nosey, gossipy creatures. Knowledge is power and all that jazz. Whilst I don't like the idea of someone taking a photo of, say, Tom Hiddleston when he's out with his girlfriend because I find that a creepy invasion of privacy, people wanting to know he's out with his girlfriend I don't find strange at all. That's the sort of stuff we like/want to know about people in our networks, and because he is someone in our network (albeit one-way, he is in ours, we are not in his) through our seeing him "around town" we want to keep up with all the news on his life. I've always found interviews with actors to just as interesting - if not more so - than the film/show they are in, because I find people fascinating (anthropologist >_>').

    I am not even going to check how long that paragraph was. I only hope it made sense. I'm in a rambling sort of mood and I'm tired, so it might not.

    I recommend that you read Tales from Facebook by Danny Miller (one of my anth lecturers, but he writes in a non-stupid-posturing-anthropologists sort of way that makes for fairly easy reading). It's not the best book in the world, but it is an interesting read. He did a study of use of Facebook in Trinidad, and I like the contrast in two of the chapters. One girl used FB as a way of getting some control over how much people knew about her, because she lived in a town where everyone knew everyone's business, and FB was a way of escaping that. In another chapter, someone used FB as a way of increasing intimacy, because they lived somewhere very anonymous. It's just generally interesting and you should give it a go!

    In regards to understanding the internet, I don't think anyone will ever understand it properly. Or at least, there won't be a consensus on it. I say this because my digital anthropology teacher gave me a 52 on my assessment essay but I stick by my argument and think she's very wrong. And throughout the course, I didn't think she understood the Internet things she was teaching at all. We read an ethnography on Second Life, which made it very clear that the users of Second Life do not consider it a game, and that it is not a game, and she concluded a couple of weeks later that next year she should put that book in with the same week the class looks at World of Warcraft, because they're both games -___-'.

    Sorry I'm rambling again. I'll stop now. Sorry for however long this comment is! :P

    1. You're very right about boundary issues not being new, just being part of a different platform. Putting this all into terms of gossip and social conversation makes a lot more sense to me. I was just discussing with my mother today why I'm interested in celebrity news, even when they're more important issues in the news, and I think the idea of expanding networks and wanting to know about it helps understand that.

      I'll have to look into the Tales from Facebook; that sounds awesome and right in my areas of interest. And you're likely right about understanding the internet - I don't think we'll ever reach a consensus about it. It means too many different things to people. And Second Life - we talked about that in one of my classes! There was a doctoral student in my department that wrote an essay on Second Life and I've read selections of it - all around, a very game that's not a game. I should send it to you.