Is it time to add the phrase “social media” to other perplexing terms such as “authentic reproduction,” “mandatory option,” and “elementary calculus”?
For one thing, the phrase now covers a wide array of personal technologies aimed at a confusing variety of purposes. There’s Facebook, of course, and twitter. But there are also chat rooms and forums on the internet. Podcasts. Wall postings. Instant messaging. For the primitive, there’s still e-mail.
We share photos on Flickr and Picasa and upload videos to you-tube. There’s linked-in if you’re serious about networking. Foursquare if you want your friends to follow every move you make. “Social media” now means too much to mean much of anything.
But that’s not the real reason i want to throw out the term. I think it lies. Yes, the social media make some kinds of communication easier. They encourage superficial contact with lots of people every day. In the spirit of full disclosure, i have a Facebook page, i occasionally share photos with friends, and i use e-mail every day. Most of the so-called social media serve a purpose. As we have seen, in times of crisis they can provide a valuable platform for efficient communication.
They offer entertainment. They’re cheap. They’re fast. And they can be fun.
But what they are not is “social.” if you’re tweeting what you’re having for lunch, you aren’t talking to whoever’s on the other side of the table. If you’re posting your location, you aren’t looking around to see who’s there. If you’re talking on your cell phone as you walk on the beach, you aren’t greeting other beachcombers. Sending a tweet can’t compare with saying good morning to the person ahead of you in the coffee line. And the less focused we are on thumbing text messages, the more focused we can be on what’s around us and on who’s there.
In Colorado last summer, I spoke to someone standing nearby without realizing she was thumbing a message on her electronic device. I said, “Beautiful sunset.” she turned and glared at me, pointed at her tiny keyboard, and said, “Do you mind?”
Let’s call these services what they are: anti-social media. Electronic distractions from person-to-person contact. Barriers to a genuine exchange of feelings and opinions. Impediments to making new acquaintances. Detours around genuine communication. When we use them because they serve our purposes, we may find them convenient, informative, entertaining. But they are not “social.” and while we are using them, neither are we.
I’m Paul Gaston.