So, dear Tweeps, herewith, four social media problems:
The Problem of Meeting Random People: (who’re certainly strangers… but may or may not be strange). Once upon a time, a very long time ago now (as A.A. Milne would say… not last Friday) I simply followed everyone who followed me. Without question. Which, I now admit, was touchingly naïve, rather like Tinkerbelle being saved simply by audiences believing in fairies. But I gradually came to realize some followers hold very odd views. (And reprehensible, at times.) Like believing vaccines are a government conspiracy to give us all autism. Or that America actually didn’t land a dozen men on the moon. Or most incredible of all, believing it a good thing that an unbelievably corrupt and morally/ethically bankrupt narcissist with the morals of a malignant hoodlum should occupy the highest office of the United States --- at all, never mind eight years. (Here’s a sidebar observation why most conspiracy theories are bullsh*t: to be successful, they require too many people --- sometimes thousands --- to Keep Their Mouths Shut. Forever. Which people simply cannot do. There’s no piece of information as juicy, as tempting to shout from the rooftops, as the one you Must Not Share.)
The Solution: Nowadays… I will vet you before following you. I will go back and view your posts. (Makes me sound rather like Liam Neeson, doesn’t it?) Because if you’re one of those people mentioned above… I’m sorry. We’ve nothing in common. Less than nothing. (Yeah, I know… technically impossible. Shut up, he explained; I’m on a roll.) To quote Desiderata: “Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexations to the spirit.” Amen, brothers and sisters.
The Problem of Time: most people I follow are --- or at least, say they are --- writers… who, presumably… want to write. And yet… if their Twitterfeeds are to be believed, they spend inordinate amounts of time… well… not writing. (I’m not being holier-than-thou: it’s an easy trap to fall into, one I’ve encountered a time or six myself. And it’s a common problem --- two thousand years ago, a man named Paul voiced the same kind of lament.) But Sweet Light of the One, to use my MC’s favourite swear in my current WIP: social media has elevated this procrastination/avoidance to a whole new level. We are aware our time on this mortal plane is limited… right?
The Solution: switch your damned laptop into airplane mode… and put your phone on the other side of the room, first muting alerts. And what the hell were you doing (pre-Covid) writing in Starbucks, anyway? Even mathematically challenged types like me understand how the equation works, and I’ll share it. Are you ready? It’s very complicated. Here it is: more distractions = less productivity. There. Did we get that, Tweeps? There’ll be a test later.
The Problem of Relationships: I see more and more plaintive tweets on variations of (1) “nobody talks to me… feel I’m shouting into a void” and (2) “I want to have meaningful discussions… and an audience of millions. Let’s do a writers’ lift!” Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but… most of us are shouting into the void, thanks to Twitter’s algorithms. And did you ever hear of Dunbar’s Number? It’s named after the British anthropologist who suggested the maximum number of meaningful relationships humans can have at any given time is 150. So… those thousands of followers… you don’t seriously imagine yourself having meaningful relationships with all of them, do you? Or believe those thousands all hang on your every word? I just checked: Stephen King has 6 million (six zeroes, kids) Twitter followers; he follows 122. QED. Those six million people may hang on his every word, but he’s… well… Stephen King. Which the vast majority of us are not, nor ever will be.
The Solution: if you truly seek deep, meaningful relationships… may I respectfully suggest all social media --- not just Twitter --- isn’t really the medium you should employ? Form real, in-person relationships (fewer than 150), because you’re not going to find those in 280-character Tweets. Or even threads of Tweets, which, as I’ve noted, are awkwardly like trying to read War and Peace on the sides of multiple cereal boxes.
The Problem of Nasty People: Oh. My. God. I think future historians will look back at Ye Olde Internet of Ye Early 21st Century, indicating it as the tipping point that turned us all into a rabid pack of vicious hyenas tearing each other apart. Granted, love and tolerance never seem to have been humanity’s strong suits, but people are just nasty on social media. Even when they’re right. Case in point: people, everyone knows Trump supporters are mindless sh*theads, but it’s really not helpful to the cause of civil discourse to tell them that.
The Solution: Hmm. Short of the zombie apocalypse and technology’s collapse, I’m not sure there is one. And that would replace our metaphorically tearing ourselves apart with literally tearing ourselves apart… which I’m not sure is much improvement.
You’ll note I’m on social media; after all, that’s where you found today’s epistle/rant. Ah ha! you gloat triumphantly. You damned hypocrite! You’ve trashed social media, but still use it! Well, yes, I do, I reply mildly. But I’m careful about new followers; I attempt, with general success, to limit my time on it; I’m under no illusions about the depth or numbers of relationships I have on it; and I do try to avoid being more than curmudgeonly on it.
Robert Heinlein noted “moderation is for monks,” but maybe where social media is concerned… we should all try being a little more monkish.