Social media, Facebook in particular, has changed dramatically the way we understand news and the world, the way we seek, get and, most importantly interpret information. At the beginning it seemed genius to have everything that interests you and you only – your own customized live feed to provide plenty of immediate, diverse information. An added benefit was the ability to share it with friends, to see who endorses it and to subconsciously engage in a discussion with them while still reading the news for the first time. Now however, this way of not seeking but having the news delivered to us through different channels and in random order comes to the detriment of our civil society.
It is only logical that apathy and hate are dominating the social media discourse to the disadvantage of constructive discussion and cooperation. This sounds a lot more preachy than I meant it to, but it still holds true. First of all, consider the everyday trends, that trigger waves of shares, fits of annoyance by those who have seen the shared post one too many times already and then, of course, a post-wave of memes mocking the whole craze. It happens when celebrities die, when Obama is elected, when the weather sucks, either because of Sandy or just due to a trivial snowfall. There always is one to ten extremely fashionable items/news of the day that we all at some point get sick of seeing. The bigger problem however is that it is easy to forget these ten ‘freshies’ are not necessarily the most important thing happening around us. Maybe there is something going on in the office next door, which matters to you much more than the fake Facebook privacy notice that you have been seeing reappear at the top of your feed throughout the day. There sure are much more important things going on in the world – politically, economically and culturally. Once upon a time newspapers would have all the information and they would sort it out from most to least important; they would make sure to leave something fun for the last pages; something new and trendy for the fashion pages – everything will be there for us to browse.
Now the information is endless and so are the channels. This makes it hard for ascribing importance and at some point you start paying the same attention to a stupid meme as to the news of a cease-fire in Gaza or the budget drama in the EU. Of course young people are apathetic – they have one flat - that is not ascribing importance - channel of information, comprised of hundreds, even thousands smaller and still flat ones. At one point you go to a news channel, a reliable one, like BBC or The New York Times and you see the leading news, the scoop – at present it is Kate Middleton and Prince William expecting their first child. This is important international news, maybe not as economically crucial as the price of petrol and the crisis of the euro, but still diplomatically important. It is also a happy news for a couple we somehow have grown to like and sympathize with – for their amiable characters, for their fairy tale romance and for her fabulous style. And my first emotion was of neither happiness for them, nor excitement of witnessing history in the making (a future queen or king is about to be born). No, instead, I felt tired and overwhelmed of what was about to happen on the white and blue online front – a zillion re-posts, updates and salutations going on and on and on – and then the baby e-zine features, how-to articles, tables of possible names, etc.
I don’t need or want this negative and apathetic emotion. I want to be able to see the news as such, not to fear being drowned by their constant repetition.
And let’s be honest Even though you realize the importance of certain matters, your personal life will always ring closer to home; the fun things will always stick longer in your memory. So when you are scrolling down the feed, from international news through your friend’s wedding pictures to a funny 9gag re-post it is likely that you ascribe equal importance to them at that moment. But the pictures you will most likely remember; the meme you will probably share. And in the company of other creatures, whose awareness of the world comes mainly from Facebook, which of those three is most likely to be mentioned in a real, face-to-face conversation I bet on the 9gag meme. Unless the friend with the wedding is present.
photo credit: Mike Bailey-Gates via photopin cc