Friday, January 31, 2014

In Defense of Social Media

I haven't written here in a while. Not because I didn't have anything to say, although I told myself at the beginning that that was part of it, but because I felt like I had nothing important to say. Which is the thing of it, isn't it? We can spend our whole lives on Facebook or Twitter or Vine or whatever and everything is condensed to status-updates-140-characters-seven-seconds-go. I deleted my Facebook over the summer, and I had Vine for like a minute, but I've been on Twitter for...three years? Four? I hit twenty thousand tweets last weekend, which may or may not seem like a worthy milestone, but for me, it meant something. I read a lot of things, most of them inconsequential, but one thing I've read pretty consistently is that social media is A Bad Thing. It's bad for teenagers, it's bad for adults, it's bad for activism, it's bad for bullying. There are myriad studies and surveys and people shouting from the hilltops that we need to stop doing everything online, and get back into the real world (dudes, save your voices. Why not just Formspring it?) - only, here's the thing. For me, and for a whole whack of people in my generation, this is our real world. 

Sure, I go to college classes that are chock full of human nuts, and I call my parents and my Bubbe on the phone, and I all-too-often have to get up close and personal with other people who take public transit. But I also inhabit a world full of people of all ages, races, colors, and creeds. They are from all over this world, in Australia and Brazil and China and Denmark and I could go on, but I'm pretty sure you know both the alphabet and basic geography. I deleted my Tumblr when I was seventeen, but recently came back to it after a fictional tragedy. That might sound a little melodramatic, but I get prettily emotionally invested in television shows. Maybe it's a writer/actor gene, because I am both of those things (and would love to one day write for and act on the small screen). A very lovable character died, and I was in mourning. But so was the whole community. And because of this connection, this ability to write and create and share art across continents and time zones, we can heal together.

This is true in real-life tragedies as well. Near daily, I see money being raised for a family who lost their son to suicide. They have taken their heartache and turned it into a force for good (you can learn more about them and their organization here). All this week, I've seen links to videos of Pete Seeger and his beautiful music. And though sometimes we forget that not everyone grieves in the same way, those of us who do find it helpful to grieve within a community are sheltered and supported. 

This is not to say that there aren't people who abuse these platforms. In every facet of society, though, there will be people who can't control themselves. Just like there are bad people roaming the physical streets of Earth, there are bad guys online. But I believe in the genuine goodness of humans. I believe that for every Twitter rape-threat, there are ten more messages of love. For every homophobic Facebook loser, there are twenty-five likes on a relationship status. And I have let fear and timidity dictate my life for far too long. I will no longer allow a few naysayers to tell me what I can and cannot do.

I got my start in the social media game on Myspace (hello, throwback) in...2006? 2007, maybe. I was no more than twelve, and my two older cousins had Myspace so obviously I had to get on that train. I had three friends - my cousins, of course, and Tom. That got old once I turned my page purple with stars and filled out all the quizzes that didn't talk about sex. So in the spring of 2007, I got a Facebook. At first, none of my friends had one. We were going into eighth grade, of course they didn't have them. I was pretty inactive until the next April, when the going-to-high-school prize for many of my peers was finally opening a Facebook account. By that point, I had already friended many people I met in my regional youth group, and I just kept expanding my social circle. Not that it made me any more popular or outgoing - my Facebook persona was very similar to my in-person persona, which is to say that it was mostly shy but a little bit sassy.

By the end of my sophomore year, in 2010, I had gotten a Twitter and a Tumblr. At first, again, I barely used them, but I had made a friend via (which I opened as a freshman when I started reading/writing for Buffy, the Vampire Slayer - we watched it in ninth grade English) who soon became the subject of the majority of my Twitter and Tumblr escapades. As that relationship dissolved, I came more into my own in those fora, and I explored myself in relation to others as well as through their art. Through our collective joy/rage/disbelief over various fandoms (the worlds in which various media exist), there were connections forged. I haven't used my LiveJournal in four-plus years, but there are still people I talk to and interact with whom I met on there. There are people I've met through who I discover ran in the same circles as me back in the day, but we never crossed paths. As huge and daunting as this world may seem at times, it is really very small.

What is my point? My point is not that you shouldn't avoid social media if that's what works for you. Believe me, I have partaken in, and then left, many branches of media because they were emotionally damaging to me. People can be cruel - cyberbullying is not a myth, rape and death threats are not 'trolling', and internet anonymity isn't always so anonymous. I know people who don't use their real names to be safe, and I also know people like me who couldn't care less about being discreet online. It's a spectrum, and a very personal one. The point is that just because there are bad parts of something, it doesn't make the whole thing bad. To quote Kimya Dawson:
For me, I love to love. I use Twitter and Tumblr and Instagram because I love sharing in the triumphs and successes of others. I love seeing people I care about, whose work I respect, achieving good things because they've tried for them. I love helping people support causes that mean things to them. I love - love. Giving love, receiving love, sharing love. Love is A Good Thing. And so, I argue, is social media.

Find me @starophie on Twitter, starophie on Tumblr, starophie on Instagram (I am super predictable).

No comments:

Post a Comment