Saturday, December 15, 2012

On Comments On Current Events, Part 1

All day Friday, the only thing anyone on the Internet wanted to type about was the incident in Connecticut. Of all the commentary I've parsed, my favorite has been:

Take that, us!

Judging by the contents of my Facebook and Twitter feeds tonight, our friend's prediction was accurate.

This demonstrates one reason why joyless fuddy-duddies like me complain that the Internet and the new mass media landscape are reducing people's attention spans. (Because it is, because it does.) Social movements can't gain much momentum if The Issue of the Day (whatever it may be) is contending with YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, video games, etc. for people's attention.

Oh, but look at all of the the #guncontrol vociferations we've retweeted! Of course we care! Of course we feel strongly about this and want it to change!

Feeling strongly and vocalizing about a social problem will never be enough to make it go away. Posting fiery comments on Facebook and Twitter, signing petitions, and sending copied email texts to your congressman makes little to no difference. Whether the issue is gun control, foreign policy, reproductive rights, etc., getting anything done requires groundwork.

I speculate that it's hard to muster up and sustain the kind of ardency and outrage that compels a person to put aside what he's doing, change his routine, and dedicate himself to activism (because activism, whether of the personal or organized sort, is pretty much the only way social change is ever deliberately effected) when (a) TV, video games, Facebook, and the rest of that list are constantly and perpetually pulling his attention in different directions (b) the use of these media is tremendously reinforcing, making it less likely that the user's behavior will deviate toward a direction away from them (as activism often requires).

(How many dedicated activists, do you suppose, play World of Warcraft on a regular basis?)

Again -- this is speculation, and only speculation. I can't confidently assert that the ease of mass communication and potential for mobilization offered by social media are offset by its general sedative effect. Nor can I say with any certainty that the public of the early 21st century is actually more opiated than the public of the early 20th or 19th centuries, but something tells me that the Internet, television, and games are a much more potent tranquilizer than the classical diet of theater, dime novels, and booze.

Yeah, yeah -- I'm not saying it should be everyone's responsibility to go out and save/change the world. But it would be nice if people, instead of just posting about it on the Internet, asked themselves what they could do, as individuals, to help fix the thing they're complaining about. And I wonder if a social environment so saturated with such powerful multimedia distractions inhibits the fostering of focused and committed activists.

Speaking of escapism, here's another comic. My name is Patrick (hi, Patrick!) and I'm part of a problem.


  1. People seem lazier because the internet makes them ever-present. Something that's always visible can be continually tracked, and if that something is a self aware and social being then it's guaranteed to play to its audience. "A tragedy happened. I feel bad. Why won't someone do something?" A person says this because it's expected. That empty comment gets posted because it must, and life goes on.

    Without the internet, the person doesn't bother vocalizing that sentiment because it does not affect them. They don't have to make a post to show how good they are for thinking about the tragedies of the world; they don't feel like they're being scrutinized, and must assuage the audience's concerns about their character. Maybe people seemed more active in the past because the only way to look like you cared was to get out and participate, but now we can "participate" with a few keystrokes and the touch of a button. It's no worse, because there's still no real spirit or meaning--it's just less physical.

    There are also more people in the world, a number which just keeps rising. Might make a bit of a diff? I dunno, doesn't really matter.

    1. So the problem is human nature? So I must build a giant machine that will CHANGE human nature?