Posts Tagged social media

Fighting ironic battles

Pearl Harbor posterI never thought I’d see the day when World War II became a source of irony. It was the definition of “good fight,” a time when the nation harnessed all of its resources to defeat what one of my high school history teachers called “made to order bad guys.”

Yet here we are. Barbasol is running a commercial featuring the viewer’s “ great grandfather” on the ground in a French village, perhaps Ste.-Merie-Eglise or St.-Lo, laconically comparing his attempt to stop Hitler with the current young generation’s obsession with tweeting and Facebooking.

Like “first world problems,” this is another example of a perverted form of thought. Its as if people think that, by noting their shortcomings in an ironic way, they don’t have to actually do anything about them.

It’s also a silly comparison. I’m not saying that my generation is perfect, but it’s not really fair to compare us to the “Greatest Generation.” We’ll never know how the social media-savvy would deal with a Great Depression or a World War, because we lived through a Great Recession and a pseudo-War on Terror.

Twitter and Facebook can lead to some shallowness, but we’ll also never know what our grandparents’ generation would have done if they grew up with these luxuries. I recently ate lunch at a restaurant packed with senior citizens, and most of them had smartphones.

Maybe we should cut back on the irony before we lose track of what we’re making ironic jokes about. This reminds me of a New York Times blog post I read recently called “How to Live Without Irony.” The author argued that too many people are using irony to avoid honest (and sometimes painful) emotional commitments.

That seems like what’s going on here. People need to accept the fact that they’re better off than others, including their own grandparents and great grandparents. That’s what those World War II soldiers were fighting for, after all.


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Getting meta over media criticism

In this age of irony and constant self-investigation, it’s easy to lose track of the reasons why people do things. That’s especially true when it comes to the media (I still don’t understand why we have 24-hour news networks). Still, we all know why reporters publish stories on things they observe, right?

As a member of the media (sort of) I guess I sometimes fall into the trap of assuming what readers will think of an article. That’s why I was surprised by some of the reactions to a recent piece on dating in the New York Times magazine.

“The End of Courtship?” was controversial to begin with. It focuses on 20-somethings’ use of texting, social media, and online dating sites, saying that technology has ruined romance. The author claims that social media have taken the risk out of asking a person out, and prevent one-on-one dates from happening by making it too easy to bring friends along.

Having your entire generation described as gutless and emotionally stunted obviously stirs up some strong opinions. In a rebuttal on RoleReboot, Niki Fritz criticized the story’s assumption that women only want old fashioned dates where the man picks the wine and pays the bill. She said there is nothing wrong with having casual dates, group outings, or hookups as options.

I completely agree, but I didn’t expect Fritz to attack the article’s negative tone along with the specific points it made. I’m getting a little meta here, so bear with me.

“All these articles do is scare young women into thinking we are in some hopeless, relationship-less era devoid of love and romance,” Fritz said.

This sounded similar to a comment I saw on a friend’s Facebook page: “I’m just sick to my stomach of article like this complaining with no resolution in sight,” the disgruntled reader said.

They say no news is good news, and maybe that’s becoming too much for people to handle. I could be wrong, but I’ve always assumed that articles like the Times piece are written to identify negative trends so they can be corrected.

People should read articles like this, realize how lame their dating lives are and try to change. But I guess, in the real world, even the people that agree that text-based dating is a problem respond with a simple “I don’t want to hear this.”

There are a lot of unpleasant things in the world, and this isn’t even really one of them. Everyone deserves to be happy, but these 20-somethings are much closer to happy than most people in the world.

Arguing an article’s specific points is one thing, but criticizing it just because it is negative is completely different. Journalists need to report what they see, good and bad, and while they shouldn’t exaggerate or misinterpret the facts, they definitely have a license to be negative.

Much criticism of the media is warranted, but have we really been reduced to this? I hope the New York Times doesn’t pick up this story; too much criticism of criticism might break the universe.

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Social media finds its niche(s)

Social media is evolving. The basement geeks that built the first social networks have moved into the niche market. Facebook is still essential for any digital identity, but now other platforms like Instagram and Loopster are being designed to share specific types of information. Which got me thinking: why stop with photos and videos?

Here are five possible social media platforms for sharing other vital aspects of one’s life:

Crassfone: For sharing inappropriate thoughts you know should be kept to yourself yet feel the irrational need to blurt out in a crowded room.

Triv-o-gram: For sharing random bits of trivia.

Noisss: For sharing non-music sound files

Aro-matic: Until smell-o-vision is invented, this platform will allow users to share descriptions of their favorite smells.

Splice: For sharing the sequence of a person’s genes.

Social networks allow us to share every aspect of our lives, the good, the bad, and the boring. Who cares if no one wants to (or shouldn’t be allowed) to know every thought that pops into our heads and every one of our actions?

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The Lonely States of America?

People on the T“The great American disease is loneliness,” Kurt Vonnegut once said in an interview. He was right, as he was about most things, and that loneliness seems to be facilitated by technology.

When Vonnegut was raising his family in postwar America, television was seen as an engine of antisocial behavior. Now, we have something much better: Facebook. In an article for the Atlantic called “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” Stephen Marche argues that social media facilitate an innate desire people have to keep each other at a distance.

Marche correlates an increase in loneliness (measured by such things as the UCLA Loneliness Scale) and the rise of social media. However, he does not blame social media for American loneliness.

“Loneliness is certainly not something that Facebook or Twitter or any of the lesser forms of social media is doing to us,” Marche said. “We are doing it to ourselves.”

People are, after all, annoying, and Marche acknowledges this. He says Facebook and other social media apparatus could be used to bring people together, but people instead use them to sanitize all their social interactions and, ultimately, avoid all the unpleasantness of real time, face-to-face communication.

If Marche is right, then American society is about to get a whole lot lonelier.

In “The Cheapest Generation,” a more recent article in the Atlantic, Derek Thompson and Jordan Weissmann argue that “Millenials” are ditching automobile and home ownership for sharing schemes like Zipcar and Airbnb. They say Millenials will push America toward a more communal economy, focused on “urban light” neighborhoods instead of traditional suburbs.

That sounds pretty appealing, but I don’t think the America my generation builds will be an urban hipster version of a hippie commune. It might be even lonelier than it is today.

Car sharing programs like Zipcar give members most of the convenience of car ownership without the soul-crushing costs and perpetual need for parking spaces. Members can pick up a car from designated stations on short notice, drive it as much as they want (they get charged by the minute or hour) and drop it off when they’re done.Zipcar at Clark University

It’s a great solution for people who live in urban areas, but it also reduces the driving experience to its essence: privacy. Unless a Zipcar driver is going somewhere with no mass transit, why not take the train? It would be cheaper, and give one more free time.

Car owners need privacy because they’re going places no one else is going; they need flexibility. But if the future really is in car sharing, would anyone take the subway if they knew they could just as easily ride alone?

The “Millenial” generation might easily choose the latter. We’ve grown up accustomed to texting instead of talking, and thinking that social movements can be organized solely through social media. We control the amount of our reactions with other people in a way no previous generation has.

Thompson and Weissmann believe personal property is a concept this generation is not accustomed to. In the same vein, spontaneous everyday interactions could be something that we avoid, and don’t want to experience just because they represent a current social norm.

If people are so quick to trade the uncertainty of phone calls for Facbeook statuses, and the tedium of waiting in line for self-checkout, will they be able to resist hopping in a car instead of riding with the crowd? Or will urban transportation become one more people-free aspect of our society?

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Independent society

“Everyone’s the good guy in their own story.” It’s funny how perspective works: we get so focused on living our own lives that we sometimes forget that everyone around us is trying to do exactly the same thing. Marketing departments and Tea Partiers want us to be our own unique selves, but how can we do that without getting in each other’s way?

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the fundamental freedoms necessary for each citizen to be their own person, but until now they haven’t had access to the sheer amount of esoterica that can craft a unique persona. The rise of social media changed that, which is why so many suburban white kids now have a taste for kimchi.

Expanding cultural horizons is always a good thing, but sometimes it smacks of desperation. It is possible to spend too much effort on introspection, to examine one’s self so closely that you will inevitably find an excuse to continue a self-aggrandizing search for happiness.

The more we spend looking at ourselves, the less we see of other people. That makes social interactions more difficult, because everyone else starts to seem like an obstacle, or a pawn. We deserve to make ourselves happy, but we need to remember that everyone else is doing the same thing.

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