Social Media is Soylent Green

It’s easy to get excited about social media — it’s fun! innovative! shiny! — but there’s a dirty secret behind every tweet, comment and “like.”

The secret? Social media is made out of people.

People are wonderful, to be sure. But we are also bound up in ego, ulterior motives and passive-aggression. We are flawed creatures.

At first glance, the social media world seems full of shiny, happy people — personalities, really. We put our best face forward because we know it is being indexed in real-time search.

On Twitter, I follow a lot of perfect strangers, many of whom are some of the movers and shakers in the Boston-area social media and web marketing world. I find many of them interesting, and I find their work interesting. Is the interest returned? Maybe, maybe not. But as we are wont to do in this realm of ambient intimacy, you get attached and you follow along with their lives, both personal and professional. It’s pretty easy to trace the dotted lines connecting the people in that sphere. And when it comes to some of Boston’s bright lights in social media, it seems those lines are more solid than dotted. It’s a tight group, with a few obvious ringleaders. And that’s fine. They’re all nice people doing good work.

But on Monday, I picked up on a bit of a disagreement between one of the main organizers of the tweetup scene in Boston and another prominent social media personality who happened to be organizing a tweetup for this week, one that was drawing the usual suspects (and I had considered attending). I was only able to infer the existence of the conflict through a series of cryptic, passive-aggressive tweets (and retweets). What’s the underlying issue? Hard to say. Maybe it’s about trust, genuineness, perceived disrespect, or all of the above. There’s drama there, for sure, but no one’s explicitly talking about it. Just around it.

To me, the outsider aspiring to connect with these folks and their community, seeing these exchanges is confusing and off-putting, on multiple levels. In a medium that prides itself on openness and community, it was frustrating to see sniping and passive-aggression between some relatively popular folks — leaders, really — in this scene. When this becomes transparent, the illusion of social media is shattered. It’s not that this inner circle is way cooler than I am; they’re subject to the same crap I have to deal with in my friendships and work relationships and on the bus. They’re just people, no better.

I don’t exclude myself from this. I’ve certainly hopped on bandwagons ill-advisedly, piled on unwarranted criticism and tweeted before I’ve thought. It’s not how I like to carry myself in a mostly-professional forum. I try to be self-reflective and not behave that way, both online and off. But, being human, I’ll screw up from time to time.

Even in what professes to be the most free and open mode of communication, we still have our human foibles to contend with. We still have our rivalries, attitudes and dramas. It’s inavoidable. Everyone does such a good job at putting their best foot forward, it stands out even more when they stumble — especially to an observer like me.

I surprised myself with how disappointed I was by this particular exchange. A higher bar had been set, and I hadn’t realized that until someone fell short. Perhaps I had been naive or starry-eyed — these folks are like mini-celebrities after all. But in the end, it was just the emperor’s new clothes.

Being reminded of the ugly truth — that social media is made of people — is actually refreshing, and makes me feel less covetous and more complacent. I should be more content to simply do my own work, find my own way and let the tweets fall where they may.

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3 responses to “Social Media is Soylent Green

  1. Pingback: We Are the New Archeologists « Safe Digression

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