Musings towards a poetics of social media

Social media and the internet have profoundly changed our notions of time and space in everyday life. Images (verbal, visual and social identity) can be published instantly to a wide audience. And it is all too easy to complain about the lack of quality content around and to be disgusted with social media and the saturation of content we encounter each day. Nonetheless, it is double-edged and a potential threat to quality.

If we want to be noticed among the plethora of content out there, we need to constantly update our blogs, our flickr sites, and other social media sites. The dictum seems to be ‘update or perish’; whereby relevance is tied to immediacy, where older posts and images lose currency rapidly. Celebrity has become a determinant of quality. Taste has become tied to celebrity rather than a thought-out aesthetic and sensibility. (I am reminded of the Pop Art movement and one of its chief proponents in the 1960s,  Andy Warhol who critiqued mass production and consumerism through his art but I won’t unpack the connections now.)

It seems that it is more important to put stuff out there quickly rather than worry about difficult notions like quality.This is a profound shift that has a fundamental impact on what we regard as ‘art’ in a world where art is increasingly commodified. It is very easy to succumb to the seduction of blog hit stats and comments as true measures of quality. It ‘s all about maintaining a position on the timeline or search, sometimes at the expense of the outcome. Content needs to be readily accessible and identifiable through tags, keywords and metadata which is a form of commodification through searchablity and presence on timelines.  Afterall, if people can’t find your content easily through Google or such, they will not read it or view it. It may as well not exist.

There is danger of a devaluing of critical awareness in the process of creating content because of the imperative for relevance through the economics of immediacy. The need to post something to one’s blog or photo feed may override the need to engage in critical reflection. The obvious and literal is also more accessible in terms of the time it takes to read or view a post. So do we sacrifice complexity for the sake of people ‘getting’ what we mean quickly?

This raises more questions to ponder:

Does the imperative for immediacy in a media-saturated landscape mean that visual cues and language need to be simplistic and reductive to grab attention? Will this affect our ability to read complex nuanced texts, let alone subtexts?

25 thoughts on “Musings towards a poetics of social media

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Musings towards a poetics of social media « Marousia --

  2. “Does the imperative for immediacy in a media-saturated landscape mean that visual cues and language need to be simplistic and reductive to grab attention?”

    In my opinion it _has_ become that way, but not because it _needed_ to. It’s a pandering to a want. It’s easier to do than something more complex, but I don’t think it has to be that way. It’s a vicious cycle that anyone _could_ break out of. It’s a question of will, and not being satisfied with the simplistic or the shallow.

    “Will this affect our ability to read complex nuanced texts, let alone subtexts?”

    Didn’t our generation learn that too much TV rots your brain? I don’t see that trend reversing with these more immediate, shorter-attention-span new media. Like an atrophying muscle, I can see how we could go that way – or, perhaps there will also be an evolution of a jump-cut intellect. One can only hope for that, but it’ll be beyond my ability, and I don’t think that true depth of analysis is likely in such a world. But I could be wrong. While I worry that a significant part of next generation won’t have the patience to learn or go into text or analysis of the world around them more than superficially, I also don’t believe that it is inescapable or a unanimous problem.

    Ha! I’m so tired, and so desiring to give an immediate response, I may have fallen victim to the same problem and come up with drivel. If so, forgive me. I’m sure there’s a kernel of what I really mean to say in there somewhere.

    • Your notion of it being a ‘question of will’ is really important. Perhaps there will be an reaction that seeks complexity and depth.

      You have given me a great idea and a new direction – I am going to look for sites where the push towards the superficial and reductive is resisted.

  3. Isn’t it this way in Hollywood as well?…you are only as good as your last picture. Just imagine what your children and grandchildren will read from you as time goes on…They are my audience (when they are adults). Take care and have a great day.

  4. One way of getting around a perceived lack of quality is not to write at the same rate as you post. If you want to post regularly, to keep your stats up, you can start several blogs/poems/artworks at once and spend time on each before posting. They don’t have to have been created on the day, week or month that they are opened to the world.

    • This is a really practical suggestion. Thank for taking the time to leave a response.

      You seem to be advocating a slow approach to the acceleration of the drive for immediacy where there is an editorial sensibility at work.

    • I think we’re talking about an actual, rather than a perceived, lack of quality. Plus, I am unable to figure out how diluting one’s effort by starting multiple blogs would improve either stats or quality in the long term. Stats can only be “improved” by posting more but each piece will still take the same time to complete, however many one works on simultaneously; and quality is likely to be degraded, in my opinion, by working on too many things at once.

      • I am so glad you get it. I am talking about an actual lack of quality in so much of what is ‘out there’ and I agree that quality is degraded by working on too many things at once. For me quality avoids the reductive and shallow, it takes the time to explore nuances and does not shy away from complexity. Critical self-reflection, I think is very important.

  5. Exactly: the shallow worship of hits and numbers of followers is diluting worthwhile content, which is being sacrificed in the name of immediacy. It’s dumbing down by any other name.

  6. I think many bloggers would benefit from having a really good think before posting, then writing a draft and letting it bed in mentally before uploading. This would engender a bit more intelligent discussion and better writing technically and stylistically online.

    The trick is not to treat your blog as a sausage machine but as a space where you can think, imagine and create. I would rather write something good that is only read by a few people than churn out any old nonsense just for the sake of pandering to a mass readership.

  7. Ah – this has given me another idea, the image of the sausage factory tempts me to think about Fordism and Taylorism in relation to the production of art in the context of social media.

  8. I’m going to play the devil’s advocate and disagree. I’m going to say that the kind of textual shorthand at play in social media has become another TYPE of communication method.

    When the telephone was invented, people feared they would stop meeting and talking.

    Turns out, we still do.

  9. In my mind, a component of this is the goal you are trying to accomplish. If you want to be read, then the nature and speed of social media can be an impediment. However, this is also a two edged sword. There are several Twitter posters whose content I no longer read because the volume has lead to repetition. As a result, I no longer choose to consume that content because of the emphasis on quantity (even though in reality the quality remains excellent).

    Reader frustration due to being overwhelmed is a reality.

  10. Your images of mass production make me have to ask if this phenomenon is really a new thing. ‘Mass production’ of ‘content’ (Side note: I _hate_ the word ‘content’ – I think part of the root problem in the net world’s information exchange is the reduction of any/all discourse or presentation, no matter what the subject, quantity, or quality, to that single word. it’s like trying to discus the evolution of modern culinary trends by calling every single dish ‘food’.)

    We have seen the trade off between speed and cost and quantity and quality in many areas of modern life – material goods, food, and yes, even information: print to radio to television to internet. However in each of these there have also been explorations in depth. I’m sure most of us have seen artistic endeavors on the net or elsewhere where someone has tried to write a song a week for a year, or write a story a day, Or a sketch a day, or any such forced creative experiments. People can and do use the acceleration of the new media as creative tools, with some success.

    I think the question – and I don’t have an answer – is whether the acceleration and homogenization and simplification forces we see now are _greater_ than they’ve been in the past and if so, are they actually more dangerous. Or is it just a faster evolving system to the next thing?

    • Your question is pertinent. I don’t have an answer either. It is difficult to assess dangers and risks when we have no means of measurement or comparison. I think you have posed a wicked problem here. Perhaps it is useful to visualize social media as operating as both centripetal and centrifugal social forces.

  11. Pingback: Hallways of Mirror and Marble: Mining The Texts « GidgetWidget 2.0

    • This is a great post – I love the notion of ‘mining’ texts and really that is precisely what we should continue to do for as GidgetWidget says:
      “If plays written by a man in the 16th and 17th Centuries can stand the test of time to be read and produced by people in the 21st Century, we ought not underestimate the use of complex language and subtext as an element that will remain viable, despite the landscape of social media. Furthermore, while immediacy may demand a reductive and simplistic approach by the writer, let us remember some of the oldest adages to help keep our perspective. Among them, “To thine own self be true.” (Shakespeare scholars, feel free to chuckle, because yes, satirical wit.) But know thine audience.”

      And I think it is important to remain true to ourselves as creative artists/practitioners/poets/writers and have respect for our audience. This can help us all avoid the pitfalls of measuring our success using the yardsticks of immediacy and relevance.

  12. Pingback: Musings towards a poetics of social media 2 « Marousia

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