Clive Thompson looks at social media–Facebook, Flickr and Twitter in particular–and attempts to answer “what’s it all mean?” His well-crafted argument appears in tomorrow’s New York Times Magazine.
art by Peter Cho
For me the best thinking in the piece comes at the very end.
Many of the avid Twitterers, Flickrers and Facebook users I interviewed described an unexpected side-effect of constant self-disclosure. The act of stopping several times a day to observe what you’re feeling or thinking can become, after weeks and weeks, a sort of philosophical act. It’s like the Greek dictum to “know thyself,” or the therapeutic concept of mindfulness. (Indeed, the question that floats eternally at the top of Twitter’s Web site — “What are you doing?” — can come to seem existentially freighted. What are you doing?) Having an audience can make the self-reflection even more acute, since, as my interviewees noted, they’re trying to describe their activities in a way that is not only accurate but also interesting to others: the status update as a literary form.
Laura Fitton, the social-media consultant, argues that her constant status updating has made her “a happier person, a calmer person” because the process of, say, describing a horrid morning at work forces her to look at it objectively. “It drags you out of your own head,” she added. In an age of awareness, perhaps the person you see most clearly is yourself.
The key to making these tools truly useful is balance. Like wine, you can have too much. The trick is consuming just enough. Each person who enters the social media sphere will have to find their own limit (for consumption and production of content) and act accordingly.
As for heightened self-awareness via social media, there’s self-awareness and then there’s narcissism. Again, it’s about balance.
BTW, “illusion of proximity” is a term I heard uttered by Renny Gleeson on Thursday during InVerge 2008. Gleeson reminded the audience that social media provides a multitude of options for making connections, but its the quality of these connections that matters most.