by D.F. Savage
Recently, my parents absconded with me back to their house in rural NoVa. Hardly my favorite place to be. But, while I was there, I got stuck on the couch watching 60 Minutes. I admit I hate the show, and, in fact, all news they don’t air on Comedy Central. Still, Mum loves it, so I sat there noodling around on the aetherbutts while Lesley Stahl chivvied some senator for the lowdown on his Dark And Troubled Past, mostly blocking out the irritating speech patterns and awkward interview style, until we reached this segment:
For some reason I can’t fully articulate, I was near tears for most of this segment. It was a strange sensation. I don’t really do feelings. And it wasn’t grief for Mohamed Bouazizi, or his family’s loss.
I think it was triumph.
I felt caught up in the revolution, nay, revolutions, sweeping the middle east. As Bob Simon says in his surprisingly awkward narration, there is nothing like revolution.
I think a lot of Westerners of our generation, especially those in “developed countries”, especially Americans, like to live vicariously through other countries’ sort of über catharsis of social and/or political revolution because we think we have none left. We remember the Civil Rights Movement and Woodstock and all of it and we wish we were that cool. Underneath the talking about ourselves all the time and not voting, there is this pervasive sense of purposelessness. We feel lost because we haven’t found our good fight just yet.
I think we go a bit overboard romanticizing revolution, but I don’t think we should stop. As ugly as it can get, there is little that is as beautiful.
But what is especially interesting and surprisingly moving to a member of the Net Generation is the role Facebook and other social networking sites have played in these uprisings. As a culture, we have an unhealthy relationship with the internet, especially the social networks.
We fill message boards and youtube comments with inane vitriol. We announce to the world every time we eat a sandwich. We spend an average of 13 hours online a week.
Interestingly, despite our reputation, it’s the Baby Boomers and Gen Yers setting the high bar on that. The hypocrits.
But then, we’re all rather hypocritical when it comes to the internet. For as much as we obviously love it, we rag on it an awful lot. We see it as a symbol of all that is wrong with the world today. It enables our selfishness, our disconnectedness. We don’t talk anymore, we sit next to each other Skyping. That is dumb and it’s a good reason for anti-social network sentiments to be spreading like they are. A lot of my friends refuse on principal to get a Twitter account.
Our own Rin was one of these folks. Aside from her general new tech aversion, she felt it encouraged egoism, celebrity stalking cultures, and put unreasonable pressure on you to be entertaining all the time. These are all very good reasons, and very true. I contend, however, that Twitter has in it only what people put in it. A lot of people put horrible bullshit in it, but a lot of people fill it with awesome.
The problem with the internet age is also the best thing about it. Our crazy globalized WiFi empire makes everything instant and accessable to a far vaster audience than ever before. If you’re posting stupid or hateful things, you’re being stupid or hateful faster than ever to more people. But if you’re posting something meaningful, you have a hitherto unheard of distribution system for that meaningful something.
My go-to example of Twitter as force for good was one of Lance Armstrong’s group rides, which he announced on Twitter. The first ride was in Dublin. He sent out a tweet in the morning asking who’d want to join him on a bike ride that afternoon. When afternoon rolled around, the message had made it’s way to over 1,000 interested parties. The really cool part is that Lance not only went on a ride with all of these folks, but he made his way back and forth through the pack and talked to everyone he could. Just by following Armstrong on Twitter, or following someone who followed him, or following someone who followed someone who- you get the idea. That was all you needed for the chance to have a casual conversation with the man and get in on a thousand-strong impromptu critical massing.
Rin was convinced. In fact, she’s now something of an addict. She tweets frequently and on a wide array of subjects and you can follow her here.
I won’t deny Twitter, like every other networking site, is a platform for self indulgence, but it is also word of mouth turned up to eleven. Of course there are downsides, but there are upsides, too. I think they’re worth it.
I also think that the internet is here to stay. I think we’re all insane over it because it’s still new, but soon, we will adjust. I think someday we will find a healthy balance, and we will use the internet to it’s best potential, and I think that’s a very good thing.