Slavery in Nigeria, the occupation of Ukraine, whatever: It ain’t about you, Sunshine.
This Kevin Williamson piece is worth reading. Twice. Yes, it’s written from a political point-of-view. Set that aside and consider it on a cultural level. It resonates with misgivings many of us, I think, have about the rise of “social media culture”. It’s a theme I explore in some detail in my upcoming project with Mechanical Muse/East India Press.
Our politics, particularly among young people and those who interact with the world mainly through social media, is no longer about the world but about the self. It is mostly an exercise in what economists call ‘signaling,’ a way to communicate to friends, and to the world, that one is a certain superior kind of person.
Tourists talking all the way through The Cripple of Inishmaan, hipsters live-tweeting Brooklyn warehouse shows… they believe that if they cease talking then they cease to exist. At a recent performance of Of Mice and Men, with an excellent Chris O’Dowd in the role of Lennie, the Longacre Theater lit up for George’s final monologue — not because the house lights had come on, but because a thousand cell phones were making videos, which no doubt were put up immediately on Facebook pages and the like. To be is to be perceived, and that is, even at the theater, more important than perceiving to narcissistic children of all ages.
[M]ore people follow Kim Kardashian on Twitter than read every political periodical in the English language of whatever ideological bent combined, that Web traffic on JSTOR is probably not a rounding error of that on PornHub, and that all the readers of the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Daily News, the New York Post, and the Washington Post, combined, add up to fewer people than are playing Farmville on any given day.
If your reading on public affairs has not progressed much past Internet memes, you have a responsibility to your country: Don’t vote. In fact, you probably should not even speak about those things. There is no shame in that; all of us are mostly ignorant about most things, as my poor father is reminded every time he tries to talk to me about sports. But please, if you actually care about the world and the human beings who inhabit it, stop — just stop — subordinating girls taken into slavery in Nigeria to the satisfaction of your ego. Go read a book. This is not about you.
I’m uncomfortable with this bit, though:
Social media and other online communications do not make people vicious and shallow; they reveal people as vicious and shallow.
Maybe. But then we’re all vicious and shallow. It’s empathy that civilizes us. And we can’t muster that anonymously (or often even un-anonymously) online, where we can’t look people in the eye. And that’s the rub, isn’t it? A mirrored funhouse of fashionable perceptions. There never was a better recipe for “mob rule”.