Glenda Daniels
Glenda Daniels

The slow descent into social media’s superficiality

I think I know why social media is good for everyone. I just think I do, but don’t really.

Besides being a vehicle for sparking Arab Springs, social media is first with the news and enhances your brand if you’re a journalist, editor, social commentator or political analyst. In fact if you’re none of these you can now become one, just have a couple of views, handy. You can promote your book, if you’ve written one, and can feed traffic to your news organisation’s site and get many “likes”, which will feed the good old ego. Then of course there’s the “engagement”, “robust debate”, “participation” — ultimately all good for democracy. On Facebook you can even send pictures of yourself on holiday and friends from your past can find you.

I’ve read about the fact that social media is great — in academic and other treatises — and because I’m not an active participant I’ve been scolded and told admonishingly how great it all is, ad nauseum. I haven’t seen all the democracy in action in South Africa though. To my mind it’s very much about the likeminded affirming the views of the likeminded. Nothing wrong with that I guess. Affirmation is surely a positive thing.

But what I’m struck by is encapsulated by these four words: superficiality, banality, competitiveness and viciousness. Sometimes just banal and stupid impulsivity. What on earth drove one leader of the official opposition to take a picture of her big toe, bitten by a rat, and post it on twitter? And then say something like: Yes, I know I need a pedi. I remain bemused and astonished. If she’s seeking attention she got the attention she deserved, didn’t she?

So as we descend into the world of “likes”, ticks, strokes on Facebook and other online media, I think of how similar it all is to the reality programmes that took television by storm a decade ago. Ten years passed. I didn’t get it — the “survivor” social phenomenon, the best strategist and who will stay in the game for a few millions. What a plethora of utter tedium, starting with Big Brother. While that voyeurism was taking off, social media was stirring. Now I hear that people have really mastered the art of posing on Facebook. They paint pictures of their lives and smile a lot in foreign destinations to let others know how happy they are. Others, I’m told, then feel sad about their own lives. There are others — equally as undiscriminating and impulsive as the one who posted a pic of her toe — who post boasts about their alcohol binges and sex excesses.

Meanwhile my slow foray into social media has got me onto twitter. I haven’t tweeted anything yet, mind you, a whole year later, but I’m reading tweets, and retweets. The tweets I read I struggle with. Why would your followers want to read that you just walked your dog or that your cake recipe flopped. Every now and then people tweet something interesting like the latest at the Leveson inquiry or a New York Times article about plagiarism. Mostly though I call it the descent into superficiality. Well-suited to the self-centred and vainglorious. It really is quite narcissistic.

Of course I see that news happens on twitter before the print media and you will see on twitter the night before what you will see in the papers the next day. For instance I found out last night about university friend Dali Mpofu’s stabbing on twitter and earlier in the week about Margaret Thatcher’s death. With the latter, if I had discovered only the next day that this racist, rightwinger who called freedom fighters terrorists, had died, I would not be worse for wear. I was surprised she took up so much space.

I’ve seen people asking for directions on twitter. What happened to Google Maps, GPS or good old map books? And on it goes. This is the banal stuff, let me not start on the vicious stuff. I once said to a colleague that I couldn’t imagine writing (and people being interested) in personal stuff like I just bought lipstick from the Body Shop, in ruby red. It’s matte and stays put — even after eating — and it doesn’t leave kiss marks on people’s cheeks or collars. His response was “but how do you know people would not be interested in exactly that about you?”. By writing this blog, because they are my personal views, I’m now of course a partial participator in social media. I’m indulging my unimportant views about social media.

I read people’s tweets and continue to read people’s blogs. Some of it’s wheat but much more is egotistical chaff. The world has changed and as I was trying to figure it all out it overtook me like a tidal wave on a beach. I thought 10 years ago that I should make the time to figure out reality programmes. I walked up and down my veranda with the then ubiquitous cigarette in one hand while I gesticulated with the other and talked to myself — in the way I imagined Aristotle would when trying to figure out a complex problem.

I didn’t figure anything out then. In the same way today, I still don’t know what’s really so good about social media.

Tags: , , ,

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    • Tofolux

      @Glenda, if you believe that social media is the bomb, then you will really believe that the cow did indeed jump over the moon. You will also believe that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that the Arab springs was a ”revolution of sorts”, the North and South Korea debacle, Obama spin, that Margaret Thatcher was a great leader etc etc. I put it to you (and this has been dealt with before) that those who participate in this new social sport are the same people who will be found on every other forum. There is an obvious duplication, some sort of multiplicity of the same voice saying and doing the same thing over and over again. The Arab Springs is a myth that was created by media spin. I suggest you go and check as to who in fact invented the word Arab Spring. The overthrowing of democratic govts and the subsequent mess they now find themselves in was done under the guise of a non-sensical claim of Arab Spring. How odd is that? In fact, is there no pertinent question that comes to mind in this respect. The point I am making is that some are so gullible it is scary. Hence do not make social media something that which it isnt.

    • Heinrich Becker

      Yaaay ! I found someone …who thinks like me…

      I found her on this little screen….bless you…I thought I was too stupid to appreciate tweets.

      And now, to celebrate, I will tweet myself to a cup of coffee.

    • Nixgrim

      @Glenda – while I agree that much on the social media front is superficial, there are 2 things you are missing.

      1 – social media is a megaphone for what goes on in people’s hearts and minds. People are egotisitical. Social Media merely gives them a platform for indulging in their fantasy that they are really important, or to say the things they think in their hearts but would normally be too afraid to say in public. Therefore, if you have a problem with social media, what you’re really saying is that you have a problem with the nature of people. In that, I would agree with you.

      2. You have a choice in terms of what you read, & you’re clearly wasting it reading the wrong stuff and the wrong people. There is TONS out there that is well above being chaff, stuff that is meaningful, engaging, uplifting, encouraging, edifying. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just stop reading the chaff & instead read the stuff that is of real value. When you do that, you’ll discover that social media is really incredible. I wouldn’t be without it now – I find it so helpful in so many ways.

    • Dave Harris

      Actually, social media is here to stay whether you, as a journalist, likes it or not! The old model of media being dominated by corporate conglomerates is nearing its end as social media quickly sweeps over our current media empires like a tsunami.

      The business model, that has been so obscenely profitable to media tycoons with their armies of journalist acolytes, is currently in the process of being obliterated. The stranglehold of corporate mainstream media is in its final throes.

      Social media is a powerful force that leading us into the dawn of a new world order, much of which is still largely unknown. So don’t be like an old curmudgeon and get on board with social media!

    • PM

      Ahh, yes, social media….simply another form of marketing/advertising (if not yet, so it will become). One that is especially valuable to companies because the companies role in producing it is more opaque–because social media is so “authentic”.

      As soon as it is seen as not quite as pristine as it appears, it too will begin its decline, to be replaced by the NEXT big thing…..

    • Jan Ciechanowski

      Yes indeed , we all have problems with ourselves in the first place and the apparent shift of mirrors from the personal to the pblic ones is always hard digest. I am still reading newspapers and avoid the social media links to acknowledge all I already know. Yet, it is impossible to avoid stupidity alltogether it is omnipresent and the whole social encounter is just it. Mind you I said social not human so keep trying…….

    • Dave L

      Welcome to the ‘look at me’ age, where things and stuff are more important than substance. Social media has its roots solidly planted in our ever greater levels of conspicuous consumption and the obligatory demand for recognition that goes with it. We have more, but are less. Our oversize houses stuffed with junk while souls and heads remain empty.

    • The Creator

      What! Social media superficial? Nonsense! Obviously this blogger has not bothered to do her homework, harumph harumph!

      Social media competitive? Outrageous accusation! Nothing of the kind is true, as you can discover on my website !

      Social media vicious? This is the kind of thing people say when they can’t find themselves a real boyfriend! No wonder, the way she writes! Outrageous — obviously an ANC supporter!

      And so on . . .

    • lawyer girl

      a year ago I was tweeting and facebooking non- stop, I was social media crazy an event was not the same if I didn’t tag friends who were with me to show-off where I was and how much fun I was having. A year later I don’t know what facebooking or tweeting feels like I had to take a step back into what exactly was driving me to be so shallow I look back now and Im grateful for the person I’ve become, I no longer need approval through comments on my pictures or likes- I have a genuine good time with friends and might instagram some pics but only in the name of editing.M point is that all of this social media takes so much of our time and is sooooooo meaningless yet we do it because the likeminded on our twitter or facebook will appreciate it and we seek that approval because we are not content with our lives so much so that we would rather spend time out with friends taking and posting up pictures all in the name of approval its shocking and upsetting- I say all of this because I have been there and I know!!!!!!!

    • Dave Harrass

      I closed my account on Facebook because nobody wanted to be my friend, except for Tofolux, and she would not say she was in a relationship with me, just that it was complicated.

      Nobody noticed when I left :-(

      But then I found this wonderful Thought Leader site, where I can post and post and post, and nobody can ignore me, no matter how much rubbish I speak…….

      Now, back onto the topic of BOA’s…..