First of all, thank you to each of you who took the time to leave a comment on my last musings post. I have been thinking a lot about the comments on my first post on the poetics of social media where I asked: “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?”
The comments were erudite and provided me many new directions. The notion of acceleration appears to be at the heart of social media. Again it is a question of time. The idea that we are overwhelmed by information in our everyday lives is not new. Richard Wurman wrote an excellent book on this very topic back in 2000 called Information Anxiety 2. His focus was on information architecture and good design. I feel that while good design can help, it is not a solution to this wicked problem. Actually, I think design may be a part of the problem.
The problem lies much deeper as pointed out by _Monocle_ :
“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?”
I feel this question is tied in to an observation made by ZeWitness: “Reader frustration due to being overwhelmed is a reality.” Feelings of overwhelming quantities is a question of time and acceleration as well as of trying to navigate through space.
The Xtraman said, “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.”
Jim Lawrence said, “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.”
I wonder, then, if by participating in social media, are we guilty of being a part of a massive production line, feeding on itself where there is no time for thinking about quality, aesthetics and poetics, and does this really matter? My gut response is yes, we should make time to think about quality because while difficult to measure and define, it does matter a great deal, to me, anyway.
The terms ‘social media’ and ‘content’ are reductivist shorthand. By using them I have fallen prey to the forces of homogenization and simplification. However, before I unpack these terms, I want to take the time to digress and step back to look at the socio-historical context within which I live. We are operating in a world that is driven by discourses of globalization, consumerism and commodification. Some would call it late capitalism, others see a new Middle Ages approaching. We have seen the disruption of the Western canon and the rise of relativism in art with the appearance of artists such as Damian Hirst. The canonisation of literature is now driven by huge publishing houses.
I recently watched a video of lecture by Ed Soja. It is a discussion of the Portman’s Bonaventura Hotel in LA. The gist of the interview was that these spaces are designed to emphasize the spatial over the temporal in order to set up a new set of relations with the experiencing subject to seduce them into submitting to authority. The spatiality of postmodernity is fragmented, disorienting thus making us more willing to submit to authoritative controls in order to ease our discomfort. The ubiquity of surveillance technologies is another indicator of our submission. I feel this also applies to our virtual spaces including social media where again the spatial is privileged over the temporal.
Perhaps being lost is something we should embrace with enthusiasm rather than searching for compasses and submitting to controls in order to avoid feelings of dislocation and associated discomfort.