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Spoilers, Social Media Feeding Frenzies and the Need to Connect

Anti-social media. To be fair, I'm doing the s...

Anti-social media (Photo credit: mistersnappy)

Back in 2009, I wrote a post about the death of the television schedule. In the post, I discussed shelf life versus participation value for content, highlighting the rare entertainment events like sports that continue to offer a semblance of the broad, connected communal experience we used to know before technology subdivided our culture. I quoted Mark Cuban who said the following:

The internet has also trained us that if it can be shown on the internet, its probably not going to have a high participation value. Why? Because the expectation is that if its on the internet, you can get to it any time you want it. Its out there waiting for you to stream or download at your pleasure. There is a long perceived shelf-life. So there is no rush.

Things haven’t really turned out that way though. As we so often note in The Scholarly Kitchen, culture trumps technology, and now, nearly every television show or movie of note is accompanied by a frenzy of effort, fueled by both traditional and social media, to create an urgent sense of community around the show.

As someone looking forward to the simultaneously thrilling and excruciating finale of the show Breaking Bad, but also someone whose schedule requires I timeshift my viewing to when it’s convenient, I feel a palpable pressure to stay caught up and watch the show as quickly as possible after it airs. Forget about joining the conversation, at this point the choice seems to be either watch immediately or avoid the internet entirely, lest one learn key plot points and have surprises ruined. The same goes for The Walking Dead, where knowledge of the frequent character deaths seems impossible to avoid.

Just as we have been freed from the tyranny of the television schedule, we seem to have responded by imposing a similar schedule upon one another.

Richard Rushfield recently wrote a snarky, yet insightful piece about the frenzies surrounding television shows, and suggests that, despite our supposed tremendous modern levels of connectedness, they stem from a desperate and unfulfilled need for community:

I think there is something terrifying about the way the internet turns out for these events and cranks up the GIF, meme, Tweet and think piece machines like some sort of disembodied 4th of July parade. These moments carry a desperation with them; the logical conclusion of the Bowling Alone thing, where now living our lives glued to our individual screens cut off from actual human interaction, we are desperate to find ways to march together. I’ve noticed that these events–award shows, series premieres, etc. are becoming bigger and bigger of group phenomenons. Super Bowl ratings have never been higher. The Grammies for chrissake inch upwards. We want to watch together. In our own homes, in front of our own multiple screens.

This sense of desperation echoes a recent study that suggests that increased Facebook use correlates with a decline in subjective well-being in young adults. The animation below, inspired by Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together, explores the connection between social networks and being lonely.

What this all says to me is that we are still in the early days of understanding and finding the right uses for these new tools. There’s no going back–the genie is out of the bottle, and these technologies are far too enticing for us to walk away. But we are all still novices in this dissatisfyingly connected world. Rather than spiral off into a Wall-E style dystopia, I suspect we will instead continue to explore how to use these technologies, and perhaps uncover a better understanding of our own personal needs, and what social media can or can’t do to meet them.

In the meantime, perhaps the best advice comes from this church choir:

About David Crotty

I am a Senior Editor with Oxford University Press' journal publishing program. Prior to that I served as an Executive Editor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, and was also the commissioning editor for their book publishing program. Many years ago, I was a research scientist, receiving my Ph.D. in Genetics & Development from Columbia University, and doing postdoctoral research in neural development at Caltech.

Discussion

8 thoughts on “Spoilers, Social Media Feeding Frenzies and the Need to Connect

  1. David,

    I enjoyed this, perhaps because I feel the same pain. I wonder how many of us are willing to own up to comments we make, or is anonymity the trigger to free expression?

    Posted by Robert Harington | Aug 23, 2013, 8:33 am
  2. Enjoyed this post, primarily because I see how social media is SHAPING how my teenager behaves/responds/reacts to people and circumstances around her. The choir was just the cherry on top of the message. Amen, and can we say, amen again?

    Posted by Wanda | Aug 23, 2013, 9:57 am
  3. David, your article certainly resonated with me. At 25 I sometimes feel like I am stuck in a gray area between the super social media users who are my peers, and the community-based individuals who are my senior. There are so many times when I wish I could unplug from Facebook, Twitter, etc., but because my peers have shifted to the social media lifestyle, I feel completely cut off and alone. It’s very interesting to me because social media has created this (dis)connected world where we are indeed very much alone together.

    Posted by Melissa Wahl | Aug 23, 2013, 11:10 am
  4. I agree that there does seem to be a sense of desperation behind a lot of social media usage…it is not really about connection, it is more about ‘listen to me…PLEASE!’

    Posted by LG | Aug 24, 2013, 2:44 am
  5. Loneliness is a disease…

    “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”

    ― Mother Teresa, A Simple Path: Mother Teresa

    MEDLINE/PUBMED/GOOGLE SCHOLAR that topic and results show science is tending to buttress her point. Your analysis and perspective are well taken…. and thanks for the vids…. I certainly enjoyed the points made about the self-editing process embedded in social media “sharing”….

    Posted by T Anthony Howell | Aug 25, 2013, 9:28 am
  6. In a sense, I fundamentally disagree with the implications of the two videos, although both contain some truth. Although I can see grounds for pessimism, I am optimistic and agree with the statement that “[r]ather than spiral off into a Wall-E style dystopia, I suspect we will instead continue to explore how to use these technologies, and perhaps uncover a better understanding of our own personal needs, and what social media can or can’t do to meet them.” But I think it may go a little further than meeting personal needs. It may help to address needs of humanity collectively.

    In trying to explain my thinking briefly (I don’t “tweet” and suspect I won’t learn how), I must be somewhat cryptic and simply refer to some sources.

    1. The ideas of J. B. Calhoun in his Frontiers of Science Lecture III presented 30 Dec 1968 at the annual AAAS meeting in Dallas, Texas. (I have an abridged version published in the journal Ekistics in 1970, and I understand that a longer version was included in a book “The Use of Space by Animals and Men” edited by Aristide H. Esser.) What this blog post is concerned with was rather well predicted by Calhoun in his description of the communication-electronic revolution of about 1988 and the compassionate-systems revolution of about 2018 (which is probably beginning to ferment now; the concerns expressed in the first video reflect that fermentation, in my opinion).

    2. The ideas of N. Rashevsky in his writings on a mathematical approach to history regarding the role of cities in fostering civilization by providing a concentration of humans that would allow the formation of interacting groups sharing quite rare interests (and abilities).

    3. The ideas of J. R. Platt (e.g., articles “Organism, environment, and intelligence as a system,” “How men can shape their future,” and “Hierarchical restructuring”).

    The notion of 150 friends in the first video strikes me as one-dimensional, and I am multidimensional. I have “family” friends (i.e., brothers and their children, cousins and their children), I have long-time “accidental” friends (people I met where, when in school, in a job, whatever long ago), I have “co-worker” friends, I have “hobby” friends, and so on. Further, there are very close friends, close friends, just friends, good acquaintances, and distant acquaintances (of each type or “dimension” of friendship).

    I mostly view my Facebook activity as follows: I am a neuron with changing synaptic connections with other neurons. An evolving “algorithm” determines whether I fire when I receive a particular input (“share” something) depending on the recent history of other inputs. It remains to be seen whether such “social networks” will lead to the development of a higher-level “social (or humanity) intelligence” as envisioned by Platt.

    Posted by uilyam | Sep 3, 2013, 11:23 am

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