Out with the counterculture! In with the confirmerculture!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

I’m naturally a social person. In a group of real people I love to read the facial expressions, watch the body language, and flit through the crowd assuring that everyone feels included and comfortable.

But. I have almost no ability to do this online. I have not taken to social media the way so many people have. Maybe I’m too much of an extrovert. Maybe I’m too much of an introvert. Maybe I’m not a bandwagon person. I don’t know. It’s just very confusing to me to try to relate to people through these new websites.

It also interests me how quickly we’ve adapted to so many different arbitrarily-imposed set of rules. On each site, in each forum, everyone seems to know how it’s done. Well. None of this was done at all five years ago. Who is making these decisions? There’s no How it’s done. Sure, be polite. Sure, be respectful. Sure. Yes. Fine. Be proportionate, if you must. Refrain from using profanity. It’s all common sense.

But. The etiquette is to make people like you instead of just being who you are naturally. It’s the height of conformity, which seems odd to relish.

So. Yes, as a mode of social commentary and critique, I do play with all these things.

Why is it okay for me to post 1000 words on a blog but not on Facebook? The action I take as an individual is exactly the same. I write something, click a few buttons, and post it. That’s what happens in either case. But doing it on a blog breeds acceptance while doing it on Facebook breeds criticism and rejection. It’s interesting. Sad, really, how everyone gets all out of sorts and up in arms and goes into patrol-mode if I don’t do the right thing, the right way, in the right place. It’s ridiculous. We’re like a bunch of two-year-olds who can’t stand having peas touch their mashed potatoes. 
I don’t mess with other people’s profiles. I don’t think that’s necessary or right. But I do explore the boundaries of so much instant etiquette on my own Facebook page. Are we really so compartmentalized that we cannot deal with words and thoughts that flow naturally? Do we really need to organize them into fifty-two different web forums? That seems strange. It also intrigues me that we make all these choices about how to represent ourselves online. It’s hilarious that we really are this superficial as a culture. The vanity? The narcissism? The exhibitionism? And. It’s not like people who post nothing are any less to blame. Don’t even get me started on the social judgment, the voyeuristic snooping, it’s all just so weird.

Mainly I’m most interested by the way the actual sites predetermine the kind of writing we are allowed to offer in each space. Facebook’s feed, comment threads, and timeline do not really allow for an interactive open forum. Same with Twitter. What can you do with 160 characters? You could argue that the constraints imposed do inspire creativity, much like poetic forms. Ultimately, the writing is reductive, impulsive, limited. A now, now, now, me, me, me culture strips us of nuance, of space for consideration, and thereby of humanity and dignity.

Best New American Voices nominee Nath Jones received an MFA in creative writing from Northwestern University. Her publishing credits include PANK Magazine, There Are No Rules, and Sailing World. She lives and writes in Chicago.

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