Mayor Bob Cashell even went so far as to release an official proclamation. It declared that social media day “celebrates the technological advancements that enable us to connect with real-time information, share ideas, and speak and have our voices heard all over the world.”
The proclamation then goes on for several more paragraphs about how social media brings us all together in a “face-to-face setting” and brings our community closer together. A parade was originally scheduled in social media’s honor but, much to social media’s chagrin, the parade was canceled when nobody showed up. The locals were all at home posting political articles, baby pictures and funny cat videos on each others’ walls. Score one for the global info. community.
That’s the cosmic irony of social media. It’s a medium designed to help us connect globally, yet when you take a step back and look at its design, social media seems to cater not to communities, but to individuals. I like this, here’s what I’m doing, here are my pictures and these are my “friends.” When I involve you in my social media world, it is generally to validate or promote myself. I define your existence in my social media world and vice versa.
When you spend significant periods of time in a world defined by these rules, the view through the looking glass can quickly become distorted. Case in point — the whole Bam Margera, Ryan Dunn, Roger Ebert Twitter fallout. Or as I call it, “Hey, some guy I’ve never heard of just yelled at an elderly movie critic with no voice about what he perceived to be an insensitive comment about the death of his friend, some other guy I’ve never heard of.” The most interesting part for me was that guy #1 (Margera) tweeted about his dead friend that “millions of people are crying.” Millions? Really? Does Mr. Margera have any concept of the word millions? A Huffington Post article in June revealed that only 13 percent of Americans even use Twitter with approximately 300 million total worldwide users.
Does our TMZ, Cable News, Lohan-obsessed, Twitter culture automatically assume that since you’re an enthusiastic follower of a certain person or event, everyone else must be too? I’ll admit that I had my ‘Bam’ moment last year when I came across a Twitter pie graph breaking down the most tweeted-about topics. I was shocked to find that the main topic I tweet about, politics, came in last! And here I thought “millions of people” care about the exact same things that I do.
In the Woody Allen movie “Celebrity,” an author discusses a world where every single person is celebrated — everyone is a celebrity. With social media, that delusion is entirely possible. It would appear that in cases such as this, social media devotees are unable to see the global community forest for the trees of their individual keyboard.
Is social media truly connecting us or further digging our individual holes in our individual worlds? There was a time when locals gathered at the barber shop to exchange interesting “tweets” face to face. Who connects better – us or them?
If something did happen outside my window, I would likely hear about it from a local social media contact and then discuss it with my friends on the other side of the country. I guess in that way, I am achieving Mayor Cashell’s proclamation to “bring communities closer together.” Nevertheless, there has to be a balance somewhere between burying one’s head in local sand and becoming immersed in the virtual community.
I seek to find that balance every day. As much as I try to convince myself and my anti-social media husband that I’m “only doing this for my business – for networking.” Who am I kidding? I enjoy the occasional funny cat video, too. So I guess I am one of the many “business professionals, innovators, influences and general citizens” mentioned in the mayor’s proclamation, celebrating “the revolution of media becoming social.” It does feel similar to a revolution in a way. The global online community is conquering the local ones, one proclamation at a time.
Christine Whitmarsh is the owner of local writing firm Christine, Ink. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.