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There are two (polar opposite) views of modernity. There are the early adopters who froth and queue up for new and shiny gizmos and gewgaws and then there are the progress curmudgeons. These curmudgeons sit on their metaphorical porches and attribute the downfall of society to; ‘those dadgum moving picture shows.’ Most of us fall somewhere in the middle of these two opposing views. The early adopters aren’t a new concept (please don’t tell them that it would just kill them) people have been running to buy what’s being sold since the first wheel kiosk opened. It’s the progress curmudgeons that are far more fascinating. Nobody is born a progress curmudgeon. Every kid is intrigued by something newer, faster, and shinier. No, a curmudgeon must be created. They must find a time in history and stick with it. Any and all things that came after these glory days must not be trusted.

This is not an entirely irrational perspective; some things simply aren’t made as well as they once were. For instance clothes used to be made to last a lifetime, although who would want to wear the same clothes for their entire life alludes me. Cars were far less disposable, but they were also lethal (both for riders and for anyone in the car’s path.) Certainly items were easier to use once upon a time. Picking up the phone and asking the operator to connect you was easier than…pushing a speed dial button? Well a typewriter was certainly easier to use than a computer. You only need insert a ribbon (use lye to remove the ink from your fingers,) insert paper, reinsert paper after you realize the lye missed some spots and ink has leached onto the paper, insert paper again with carbon paper (use lye to remove carbon from fingers) commence typing, commence searching for white-out, miraculously finish letter, try and type address onto envelope, give up and handwrite envelope, find stamp, walk to mailbox, repeat. Fine, communication is easier but what about music. Don’t you miss records? You remember records don’t you? There were those paradoxically highly fragile yet extremely heavy items you had to lug around with you through life. They crackled and skipped and sounded nothing like the real thing.

I think we can all agree that progress is just that; progress. We don’t have to like it and we don’t have to adopt it, but we cannot argue with the fact that it is progress. No one wants to feel left behind or to have his/her rituals upended. But discounting progress, or worse imbuing progress with negative consequences is misguided. How many times have you heard people blaming modern movies and videos for increased violence (as if silent movies weren’t horrifically violent)? And what of this notion that social media is to blame for increased bullying. It’s not lax parenting, or the soul crushing experience of a Kindergarten graduation ceremony that leads to the self-esteem issue that is always at the root of bullying. Nope, it’s social media that is to blame. The same social media that allows for positive reinforcement that simply does not exist in any other domain of the real world with the exception of group therapy. Before the advent of (social media) Linkedin did anyone ever publicly endorse your skills? Whether it is a meaningful gesture or has any validity at all is beside the point. It is a public attaboy that simply did not exist in the past. Before we tweeted, did we publicly support other’s views or endeavors? Do we even remember a life before Facebook and the villages it’s created? When, beside a reunion (family or class) did we ever cheer accomplishments, offer sympathies and coo over baby pictures?

Expanding our sense of community is always a good thing. It reinforces our attachment and obligation to the larger world. Humans despite their many differences are at their core the same; they need to be connected to other people. It is not the gaming or chatting that encourages antisocial behavior; it’s the fact that people are using these outlets to avoid social behavior. In that sense the video game is no more detrimental than the comic book (which was also decried as the downfall of civilization.) The progress doesn’t create maladjusted people, it’s that maladjusted people still crave human interaction, simulated or not. Banning or demonizing the tangible is always more tempting than dealing with the elusive. The only way to reach troubled people is to reach out to troubled people. Blaming something we don’t care for or don’t understand is distracting and disingenuous. Social media, comic books, dime novels or pool do not create trouble. Troubled people are drawn to things that make them feel less alone.

 

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Dateline: Twitter

If the 2008 election was the first grassroots get out the vote campaign (in recent memory) than 2012 was the first social media campaign. Since the dawn of the electoral process candidates (and their supporters) have said outrageous things. These statements, either patently false or a scathing truth about a candidate’s character, would mostly go unnoticed. Conversations or speeches made at fundraisers, or other “invitation-only” events might leak out but rarely with any consequence. Candidates making outrageous (if not flat out insane) misinformed statements regarding reproductive biology might be quoted in local media. If the statement or story was sensational enough perhaps national media would have picked up the story. But there was always still a chance that a whispered conversation or two might be able to quash a story.

But today all bets are off and there are few places to hide. Advances in hardware and software have created an everyman press corps. Audio and visual recording can be made with phones. Social media has created a souped-up uber-grapevine. The more outrageous the statement the higher it will trend. A statement made in public, which might have been reported in print, now can become a catchphrase/punchline in 24 hours.

Tradition media is influenced by all of this. Every candidate and his or her cadre of spin machinists know this. Which means that when a candidate utters something worthy of a hardcore Scooby Doo “huh?” reaction we can only guess what he/she has been trained not to say.

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

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Skout: It’s Not For Boys & Girls

There is no ignoring a headline of 3 child rapes being linked to social apps.  Child rapists have successfully posed as teenagers on Skout and attacked children.  It’s awful, it’s disgusting, it’s devastating, but demonizing social media is shortsighted.

Perhaps I am too literal, but I’m not entirely comfortable categorizing software application whose sole purpose is to bring strangers together as “social” media.  It’s not just the semantics that trouble me, it’s that the category of social media or networking is far too large and vague now.  (As technology grows, our language needs to keep up.  It’s too tempting to make sweeping generalizations otherwise.)  Skout, to my understanding, is an app that children over the age of 13 can legally use to find strangers.  Why?  What could possibly be the reason for such a thing?  What corporate brain trust decided that the teen market was a must-have for this app?  Were the decision makers reassigned from the Joe Camel ad campaign?  Has the dream machine behind flavored vodkas and wine coolers moved on to software marketing?  Have we really in fact allowed corporations to now actively lure children into talking to strangers?

What kind of teenager do we think would be interested in meeting strangers on-line?  Would it be strong, stable children with solid social networks and adult relationships?  I’m guessing not.  Teenagers are nothing if not acutely socially aware.  They know who’s in and who’s out at any given moment.  The adolescent social world shuns strangers.  It is likely that a teen would only seek out strangers if he/she felt alienated by the real social world or had a propensity towards risky behavior.  So let’s make an app available for that!

I worry that this story will cause the villagers to take up arms.  Not against Skout, which seriously needs a trip to the woodshed, but against the bogeyman of social networking.  Should children have access to social networking sites (whose intention are to connect people to those they actually know?)  I’m not sure it’s necessary, but then again I don’t think children need to sport fake sleeve tattoos, so I might not be the best judge. What would be wonderful is if the news of these attacks on children prompts family conversations.  Strangers are people you do not know.  The fact that a friend knows them doesn’t make them less strange.  Someone you’ve heard of is not a friend (that’s why Beyonce isn’t returning your calls.)  I would go so far as to suggest that an adult is not a friend either.  An adult might be a teacher, coach, therapist, tutor or friend of a child’s parent, but not a friend of the child.  But then again, I think putting a toddler in high heels, a sequin dress and fake fur jacket is a slippery slope.

It’s always tempting to blame an outside force, particularly a consumer product.  In this case it actually is appropriate to enforce changes to the product.  But let’s resist the urge to demonize everything we find unfamiliar.  Let’s not run to blanket our airwaves with every child “expert” or media “expert” exposing catchy, yet utterly vague sound bites about children and social networking.  Let’s do our best to remember that technology isn’t the issue, human beings are the problem.  Child rapists by definition will seek out children.  Our job is not to hide our children; our job is to pay attention to who they are and what they need.  We need to know about their world and how they are living in it.  Unless they actually paid for their phone and monthly bills (insert; ‘ha ha ha’) parents have every right/obligation to access the phone on a regular basis.  A child who knows he/she is not living in a secret alternate world from their parents is more likely to make good decisions.  Part of what we teach our children is how to live in the world not how to hide from it.  There will always be dark and dangerous forces in the world.  Strong children with well honed coping tools grow into resilient and successful adults.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2012 in Childhood, Media/Marketing

 

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