The churn of world news as fuelled by social media is the ultimate form of contemporary escapism. All the more so because it’s insidious: you think you’re engaging with the world at large by posting a link to the latest piece of news hysteria (with an accompanying slice of commentary of your own) but what’s really happening is that you’re simply enabling a vicious cycle to keep spinning.
Vacuous listsicles are part of the problem, yes, but the real threat, I think, are polemical think-pieces such as this one. All they enable are hearty rants – an automatic indignation that fizzles out soon enough, to be replaced by the next carefully-curated injustice to appear on our screens.
The virtual podium of social media has made us believe that we’re at the centre of things – even if we’re decrying just how marginalized we’ve become – by dint of any number of factors that the net savvy global media is more than happy to provide us – we’re doing it from a position that makes us believe we have all the ears in the room standing to attention.
This is wrong, and the main reason is wrong is not for any intrinsic arguments it may be able to make. Far be it from me to decry anyone to take a critical stance on anything. The Guardian article makes some great points about the contemporary media landscape, and we would do well to be wary about how the media conglomerates are manipulating our increasingly more pervasive digital space.
But it also appears to prioritize feeling helpless over seeking out any creative solution. Nevermind the fact that, despite the mainstream infiltration of commercial interests into the digital realm, nothing is stopping us from finding our own way around the maze, and searching for things that are enriching and worthwhile.
Russell Brand’s calls to ‘revolution’ may be one of the most trendily misguided phenomena to emerge in popular culture over the past year – though criticism of it has also tended towards the unhelpfully glum.
So I propose a more modest revolution. The revolution of reading long-form articles as opposed to listsicles as a direct affront to what the contemporary digital zeitgeist expects us to do, apparently.
Partly as an affront to the above-linked Guardian article in particular and partly as an affront to this suffocating zeitgeist in general, I’m aiming to counter all this with a bloody-minded optimism, and a belief that social media is not an endgame but a distracting detail.
I won’t deactivate my Facebook account because that’s plainly a desperate act, and neither will I resort to bashing the internet, because the internet is not a monolithic whole. But I will do my best to remember that it’s the stuff we do quietly, in the margins, that really matters.
Make something, do something, then show it on Facebook if you feel like it. I don’t want to bash ‘exhibitionism’ either: after all, if you want other people’s opinions on something you should be able to try and get them.
‘What we do in shadows’ could be a good motto.
More than anything though, it’s the overtones of helplessness, which only seem to be encouraged by all that I’ve just described, that I want to do away with. If something doesn’t energize you in any positive (in the sense of constructive) way, then discard it. And this includes righteous anger, by the way, just not the kind of righteous anger that leaves you running in place.
Optimism is both uncool and hard, but more and more I feel it’s the only option I’ve got left.