Category Archives: social media

OMG Social Media Promote a Storytelling Mind

photoThis may come as a shock, but I’m going to go on record here and now as saying that social media are NOT destroying the fabric of culture (Grammar alert: Media is a plural noun.) Twitter is not forcing us to take in the world in ever smaller sound bites. Texts are not preventing us from engaging with the here-and-now, and Facebook is not turning us into moronic belly-button gazers.

At least they don’t have to. Because every time we communicate to another person about what we are doing, thinking, eating or (it happens) excreting, we are paying attention. We are stopping to notice what is going on in the real world in order to report upon it in the virtual world. And paying attention, or mindfulness, as I noted in my last post, is what promotes the storytelling mind.

So is communication. There are media that cause us to sit in the dark and watch a feedback loop of other people’s dreams and talents, but social media are not like watching DVDs or streaming video. They exhort us, they demand that we participate. That we engage with another person. True, we are not doing so face-to-face, but the advent of telegraph and telephone already did away with that a long time ago. They force us to frame a message and anticipate a response from an (albeit faceless) other person or persons. In fact, we use our imagination to conjure up the person with whomwe are engaged.

Now let’s be clear: I don’t personally likeĀ  any of these media except texting, which, frankly, makes life worth living, in real time. But my argument is like my take on bottled water. Sure bottled water is the bane of the environment. All those awful plastic bottles that blot the landscape would not exist if we just carried around our own canteens wherever we went. Before there was bottled water, there was bottled soda, yet everybody is on about bottled water. Frankly, I’d rather see a child drinking 10 16-ounce bottles of water than drinking a Coke. Bottled water exists because people are trying to drink less liquid sugar, which has got to be a good thing, right? The lesser of two evils. So why go on about bottled water?

That little bottled water rant came up because I think social media get the same rap. Yes they are ubiquitous in classrooms, movie theaters and supper tables, where they don’t belong. Yes, it is preferable in many ways to look someone in the face, interpret her body language, decode the texture of his voice. But we are not face-to-face with our friends and colleagues and acquaintances, and the lack of social media is not going to put us any closer to those people with whom we wish to communicate. Quite the opposite.

What social media do is cause us to focus and articulate those aspects of our lives and thoughts (however trivial they may at times be) that we would likely otherwise have left unexamined. And as Socrates said about social media, the unexamined life is not worth living.

Neither is a life without texting.