What’s On Your Mind?

Since it’s creation social media, and social networking sites, have been connecting people across the world. They were created  in order to make the world smaller, and to bring people together. Facebook and Twitter, and before them Bebo and Myspace, existed so that millions of people could speak with one another, share ideas and beliefs, thoughts and stories, exchange and promote photos of themselves and their best moments. They have become virtual communities where everyone has a voice, and nobody has to be alone.

There is a darker side to social networking though, and through no fault of it’s own, it has now become a cause for concern in many areas. The anonymity allowed in forums and comment sections allows a freedom of speech whereby any message can be promoted. Hate, racism, homophobia, sexism and more. The incredible freedom of the internet itself and the connections that can be made online can lead to tragic consequences. Anything and everything can be found online, from hired hitmen, to illegal substances and from animal cruelty, to child pornography. As ever with such wonderful, boundary dissolving innovations, the gloss and sheen is soon lost due to unintended use and darker desires.

Over the years I have had experience with both Myspace and Facebook, and as my online attendance has grown and developed, it has become more obvious to me that social media is less about a community, and connecting with others, and more about the individual. In essence, I feel that social networks are promoting an inflated sense of worth, and a heightened sense of selfishness and arrogance.

If you are at a similar stage of your life as I am, then you will remember the days of Myspace. New Friend Requests, Bulletins, A Top Friends Section and the ability to customise your pages look and layout. I spent an ungodly amount of time on that website and I loved every second. I feel that that site, the way it was constructed, what I was able to gain from it, and give to it, must have impacted on my life in some way. It is a fact that people are influenced by their environments, and though Myspace was not a physical environment, it still provided a surrounding with which to exist in, a surrounding that had conditions.

The name Myspace was clearly chosen because it was a space for an individual that they were in control of, quite simply you had your own space. Though that name empowers the user, straight away it places the emphasis of the entire site on them. Myspace was not a community driven site, it was not Ourspace or Sharedspace, it was My. Millions of individual personal spaces. Now and then people perhaps left you a comment on your profile, but thanks to the ability to entirely customise your own profile, these were often hidden by users. On Myspace your number of friends was a status symbol, the more you had, the cooler you were, and to impressionable teenagers this is a dangerous thing. There were pages and websites offering advice on how to get more friends, and as your number of friends grew into the hundreds of thousands you began to gain the title of  “Myspace famous” . I never reached this distinction, I obviously wasn’t cool, unique, or weird enough to deserve it.

As well as the term “Myspace famous” there was also born, “the Myspace pose”. Though increasing the number of “friends” was the main objective on Myspace, coming a close second was gaining as many positive Picture Comments as you could. The best tactic to do this was “the Myspace pose”. A quick Google search of this phrase results in 7,500,000 results. Urban Dictionary gives instructions on how best to perform the Myspace pose; “1. Position or hold your webcam above you so that it is pointed down at you from a high angle. 2. Look up at the camera with your eyes without lifting your head, because otherwise you will not be accepted by your peers if you use your neck. 3. Don’t smile. This rule MUST be obeyed. Extra points if you look upset or woeful. 4. Take the photo, then make it black and white on your photo editor. 5. Post it and watch your popularity boom”. As Urban Dictionary correctly highlights, even the photos on your profile are geared towards attaining popularity.

Like the old faithful pet dog who for years has remained loyal to you and brought you hours of joy, Myspace was soon put down to make way for a younger model. An adorable, lovable Basset Hound puppy came bounding over the horizon, tripping over its own ears in its excitement and enthusiasm to reach you. Facebook had arrived.

It seemed Facebook had improved dramatically on the Myspace model. The name does not emit an air of arrogance, the format was clean and quick, the possibility to achieve hundreds of thousands of friends was removed. Early indication was that Facebook really was the means with which you could connect with others. Social networking had surely evolved past the arrogant stage.

As it turns out, it hadn’t. Once again, Facebook cannot be solely blamed for this, as its obviously down to the users as well, but the layout and the structure of Facebook made it possible. The vanity of Myspace poses went, the desire for more friends subsided, but other functions encouraged the arrogance and aggrandisement of the user.

I like Facebook’s inclusion of a News Feed, it is a great improvement on Myspace’s Bulletin system. However, the Facebook News Feed is not a feed of news. Rather than updating you on local, regional or world events it bombards you with cat videos, baby photos and pictures of poorly prepared evening meals. Users are encouraged to post such things because of the “Like” system. The inclusion of this button likens (pardon the pun) peoples updates to an on-going popularity contest. When you gain a “Like” or a “Comment” online its reassuring, and its uplifting. You get a sense of joy, fulfilment and achievement. In the real world it would be a pat on the back from your mate, or a “well done” from a work colleague.

Everyone’s profile carries with it the Status option where it says “What’s on your mind?”, like the name Myspace it is seemingly empowering, but once again it only further reinforces an arrogant mentality. This social networking site is about you, just you, not the connections that you can make, not the news that is sandwiched in between “Sparkles Chasing Fluffy” and “My bro’s attempt at a lasagne”, not the “friend” you haven’t spoken to in five years and not any one of your thirty seven followers. It is about you. For a social networking site, it does not encourage much networking at all. “What’s on your mind?” Tell the world exactly what you are thinking at this moment, because it is important, because it is paramount, because you have not updated your status in six hours and someone may think you’re dead.
Now you may argue that there is a function to hide people’s updates on Facebook. This hide function however, surely only supports my argument further. The fact that you can hide other people’s opinions, other people’s words and updates, not just people actually, your friends. These are people that you care about, some you may even love, and with one click you are able to hide everything they do and say. So they are now hidden, and yet you are asked to say something every time you visit your own profile. You’re clearly more important than they are, the world needs to see a new photo of you in front of the mirror, holding your smartphone, the world needs to hear how drunk you got last night in town with the girls, as if the world did not know already, the world needs your update on the sports score.

So statuses have become popularity contests and the News Feed has become a never ending, ever updating, list of things that are far more important than the millions of people displaced in Syria, the possibility of civil war in the Central African Republic, and the human riots violations conducted in Guantanamo Bay, and just when I thought it could get no worse, along came Twitter.

I have very recently enrolled on a NCTJ diploma and I am told that Twitter is a necessary platform for any journalist. I begrudgingly accepted this “necessary” evil and created an account a few days ago. I had held out for seven years, an eighth just wasn’t possible it seems. Every Tweet I send, I hate myself that little bit more. Twitter, I feel, is the icing on the cake of this social networking arrogance. Ego and vanity must surely have reached their pinnacle with the creation of this site.

As a journalist I am told I need Twitter, and the two pillars of Twitter are the people that you are “Following” and the people who are your “Followers”. I have “Followers”. Some opinionated, wannabe journalist with a cynical mind and too much time on his hands, has followers. It is as if I am a messiah. People I don’t know, people I will never meet, are following me, and getting an update every time I feel the need to say something. Every time I am encouraged to Tweet, “my followers” can read my thoughts. In fact the world can, there isn’t even privacy. We are all walking around the streets of cyber-ville, shouting our opinions as loud as we can, and encouraging people to join us. “Come along, follow me, if you really like what I am shouting, you can even shout it again once I finished shouting about it. Don’t be shy. Follow me, listen to what I have to say”.

Social networking is an incredibly ironic name for a system that does little to network or does little to make us sociable. Instead it promotes, encourages and reinforces vanity and arrogance with its users. Our “friends” and “followers” give a sense of togetherness, but all that is really occurring is that we are becoming more deluded, more vain and more self righteous. I greatly admire those that are not a part of it and one day I hope to join their ranks. Until that time, you can follow me on twitter here. Hope to see you soon.

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