This was five months ago. I like internet technology and I like to experiment with it. I was relatively early to blogging (2003), and thought that the net would really revolutionize the way people communicated in writing with each other. Twelve years later, I am an internet skeptic. I think the thing is an unregulated mess. In large measure, it encourages deceit and misrepresentation.
Pre-internet, the major ways of mass communication were through intermediaries. If intermediaries didn’t like what you wanted to say in print, it didn’t get said. As a creature of the editorial page, this never sat well with me. If people had something to say, and they could provide some cogent support with it, they should have their chance, unharassed. The social media phenomenon presented itself at a time when the wide world of the internet was already discouraging people from online communication. Facebook and other social network groups provided a “safe” space to express and talk to each other via the web.
But at least three problems arose: one, is that digital communication is a less authentic form of talking to people than face-to-face, or a writing that you have to put to paper and have delivered. Or a phone call, where you hear the simulation of the other person’s voice, so much that the brain takes it as their real voice. Pre-internet, communication was more “real”.
Second is that social media created relationships that had increasingly questionable basis in the real world. In the extreme sense—the ones that make the contemporary stories—-are the harassers and stalkers, “trolls”, and these other people who impose on the use of the internet by innocent persons. But: there is the situation less discussed, which is the power of social media to make you think you have levels of relationships that, in fact, you may not have.
The third is the inability in social media for you to control and be the gatekeeper of the news that comes your way. You agree to take in a lot of social media information, and you may not want that information. When it was phone, letter, or in person, there were natural barriers to a lot of that. Maybe not so much with the phone, but even so, in the phone days you could only take so many calls. And news to many people had to be made one call at a time.
When I left Japan, I felt that social media was great, because it would allow me to stay in touch with my friends and associates to whom I was connected here. But what I discovered in rather unpleasant ways, is that these connections were, maybe not as a rule but as an exception, the illusion of being connected. You are seeing pictures and reading news from people who, over time, you may have no connection to at all. Moreover, you may be getting told things that really aren’t meant.
Yes, that happens in real life, but there is a sense people have, when they talk face-to-face, that they are being bullshitted. Internet masks and flattens that sense. So when somebody tells you, over the social media, how they wish that they could, by magic, be with you in America, or you and them together in Japan, that may mean what it says, and that may not mean what that says. You don’t really know. Because you—how shall I put it?—agree to cooperate with Facebook, you get this message, this sentiment. But it could all be bullshit. You only find out later.
See, back in the day, if you told a person who was really a stranger that it would be wonderful, “if by magic”, you could be where they are, or together in some other place, that would say something. But in today’s world, that is the equivalent of just some bullshit. You found out you were being bullshitted much more quickly in the 1980s. People had to make the effort to bullshit you. Not just type on a laptop. They had to either write it out and mail the letter, or hand deliver it. They had to make the phone call and express it. Or they had to tell you face-to-face.
And so there were countless opportunities to check and gauge whether you were being fed a line of shit. But in social media, people tend to take the personal communication at face value, when, in fact, in can easily be a line of shit. You only find out later, once you trusted the earlier words. What I realized along the way, is that participating in social media has you agreeing to be the victim of someone else’s lines of shit. In a similar way that you can be the victim of a troll or stalker-type person. Only it’s worse, because this person had held themselves out, at some point in the past, as a “friend”.
In fact, it was only a stranger using the internet to tell you things that were not true. I wish I had never used Facebook, but I cannot take that time back. (Or I might say, “if by magic . . .”) I realize there are people who “hate” Facebook, but this is more of a deep disappointment in the technology and its structure. I think Facebook encourages these false connections, because Facebook is ultimately about collecting a lot of money. Facebook is treated as a utility by its users, but is of course actually a business. I, of course, am not big on the blog format either, since it attracts its share of nuts and sociopaths who surf the web looking to make trouble. In the editorial days, they usually had to leave evidence of criminality to do it, now it’s treated as a “free space” by law enforcement.
I still put the question out to naysayers, though, that if the editorial page is dead, and the comments section of major newspaper websites is a shout into silence, where are opinions going to be expressed and debated among the public?
[Afterword: In some ways, the minute you start connecting over social media with someone, you are disconnecting your relationship—unless you do all the traditional things that solidified friendships. This is the fatal flaw of that technology. You become Major Tom, just floating out there, untethered.)