This a response to Ernesto Priego’s post, which is one of the best and wisest things I’ve read for a while. Please read his post before you read mine, which is but a poor reflection, and a bit of a mind dump, so please excuse waffle and bad syntax but not foolishness.
Reading Ernesto’s post, I thought again about giving up this blog, but then I thought, no, it is my voice. It is where I share what (for good or ill) would not otherwise be shared. I’m thinking of @PatientAsPaper, #chronicLife, etc. Patients’ views need to be heard. I could share elsewhere, on Facebook we have the Somerville Foundation page where lots of CHD-related sharing goes on, but some sharing needs to go outside the “echo chamber” (as we used to say in Library Land). Sometimes, I need to write to at least attempt to be heard, because I can’t speak, or I don’t want to, or I think it’s good to let other people know I go through these things too – I like to feel like I’m doing my bit for patient solidarity and support because I don’t do much of that offline.
Of course, this is all my way of justifying the continuation of my online ramblings, most of which aren’t even about my experience as a patient! But I do try to filter. I’ve recently removed (literally) hundreds of posts from this blog because they were there like a millstone around my virtual neck – I actually felt them weighing me down – adding to the content overload which I, too, feel overwhelmed by even as I add to the problem, typing some more letters, words, paragraphs, waffle, to add to the overfed monster that is social media.
I returned to Facebook fairly recently, after a few years’ hiatus, and this hasn’t helped, but actually I find it easier to filter Facebook than Twitter, partly because of the changes to Twitter Ernesto talks about – it is a bit ‘all or nothing’, whereas Facebook, though clearly evil, has grades of filtration. And, yes, I think it [social media] is evil, or at least partly so – we are making ourselves both the marketeers and the marketed – the consumers and the commodities, even as we preach against such things. As Ernesto says, I think part of this is due to the fear of missing out, especially in a professional context:
Fear of missing out means many of us feel we need to keep an eye on social media to be mildly aware of what’s happening in our fields and in the world, but the illusion created by what looks like everyone actively broadcasting how hard they are at work (or having fun taking planes to exotic conference destinations) can also have a paralyzing effect.
This may particularly apply to librarians and other information professionals who may feel (or it may actually be) that part of their job is to engage with it, and yes, Ernesto is also right about the self-filtering/accompanying professional anxiety. I don’t know how we get round this, apart from to self-filter more, but even if you cut out all the dross [how?] the anxiety would still be there. And also, who decides what is dross? Is it ethical to cut out (‘harmless’) dross on a supposedly democratic platform? Who decides what is harmless? Etc. [One of] the problem[s] with social media is that it is both tremendously subjective and in everyone’s* faces [*yes, I am also aware of the digital divide, don’t worry]. People are consuming other people’s lives like never before – and we the marketeers/consumers want them to do it.
It’s like a new form of social evolution/survival of the fittest – there is a pressure to be [seen] as the best – who takes the best pictures [Instagram], who has the cutest kids/makes the best cakes/has the most friends [Facebook], who has the most readers [WordPress] – the rise of ‘click bait’, even on the BBC News website for pity’s sake, illustrates such things quite well. There isn’t necessarily a prize (except possibly for advertisers) if you win – but it’s the feeling we want – the high of a jump in stats or likes or admirers.
I want to get excited by new forms of social media, but now I just feel overwhelmed. Like Ernesto, I’ve been at this lark for a long time. I do feel old now (even though I’m not yet 40), and a bit behind and a bit lost these days; partly because I feel unable to filter as I used to (see Twitter changes, dumbing down of the BBC website, etc.). I feel bombarded and bored and the same time, but, conversely and paradoxically (and hypocritically), I want to enter into the mix and have people read my content. But why? Why do I want to be a commodity? Because I want to be be heard, I want to feel important and valued. I want to be a survivor in the mad world of the web. To take a more benign view, I want to continue creating: to create is to be human, it is said.
I’m not sure what the answer to Ernesto’s questions are. I think we do have a responsibility as users to filter and self-filter, and to try and take a step back from social media sometimes, to critically assess both it and how we use it. As users/creators/consumers of social we are ultimately responsible for its content – we are the transmitters and the receivers of the messages that are sent and our fate is in our own hands.