I’ve been told to answer this question, or at the very least to ask the question and then talk about asking it. Big Brother . . . er, CreComm asked me to do this. And I’m glad that it did, because it got me to thinking—Twitter as an enigmatic dictator? Yeah, the idea kind of works.
There’s no question that social media has moved in an interesting direction the last few years. From media to marketing. From social to sociopath. If you want to brand yourself, in life and in business, social media is now the fastest and, indeed, the laziest way to do it. Did you hear about that movie? Here’s the trailer for you. Been to Home Depot lately? Here’s the latest catalogue for you. Are you following Donald Trump? Here’s a racist diatribe for you. But with great power comes great responsibility. Social media gives with one hand and takes away with the other. A series of right choices can point you in the right direction; one bad one can sink the ship. Which is why people, if they’re smart, are forced to keep with the goodness. Happy thoughts, people, happy thoughts! One bad thought—or bad by the standards of a single niche market—can become a Thoughtcrime. And then the Thought Police come for you. And then you find youself strapped to a chair in Room 101 facing a deathly rat as it bores toward your skull. Or, if I may dispense with the Orwellian analogies, everyone starts hating you and you are suddenly a tabloid enemy of the state.
In Orwell’s book (we’re talking about 1984, by the way, in case you hadn’t guessed), Thoughtcrime was punishable by death, but you were only captured for it if you let your scandalous, anti-establishment ideas be known. Even in that dystopian future, Big Brother wasn’t advanced enough to get inside your head. And the real world isn’t either. Yet. Which means that if you have controversial thoughts, the kind that might see you culturally crucified, you actually have to speak them. And Twitter lets you. And people do it. They don’t have to, but they do. It’s as if they stand in front of their telescreen, glare deeply into it, and shout “2 + 2 = 5.” In 1984, such an act would earn you a quick trip to Room 101, and in our world, it gets you our everyday equivalent—a guest spot on Jimmy Fallon where you apologize for swearing at the paparazzi.
Granted, unless you’re a celebrity, Twitter has the benefit of anonymity. It’s like the bathroom stall of social media. Or at least people think it is. They assume they can get away with politically incorrect bombast because they don’t have to face those angry faces in the crowd, forgetting that, in the end, a Twitter handle is attached to a name, and a name is attached to a face, and, sometimes, a face is attached to a future political candidate who desperately wishes that they hadn’t once used social media to brag about spitting on a homeless person.
Then again, should social media be conversely dull? Facebook seems to think so. Facebook is more inherently friendly because, you know, “friends.” Everybody and their dog has five hundred Facebook friends, including the Facebook friends who are dogs, and after a while it becomes impossible to ignore the fact that everybody on my Facebook list sounds more or less the same. Every status update, every comment, every little blurb of consciousness that gets posted to that site sounds like an attempt to look smart, sound detached, and act aloof, as if life really were an endless series of caustic remarks and mild annoyances. It’s like being trapped in a nightmarish Oscar Wilde theme park, where everything is surface and snark and everybody has an animatronic smile fixed on their face. It’s not what’s said on Facebook that amazes me. It’s what’s left unsaid: minus a few execptions, nobody is vulnerable or depressed; nobody is on anti-depressants. At least Twitter has the decency to try to show society for what it really is.
But is it that dangerous? There’s no question that the advent of the Internet slowly eased us into a culture of rampant over-analysis. Apparently it’s a big deal that Kim Kardashian takes nude selfies. But is it? Who has time to ask that when there are enragements to be Tweeted? So far our rage has remained confined to words . . . and fun. The trolls, the PC principals – their reactions on social media are less about righteousness and more about pleasure. It’s fun to misinterpret things, and it’s fun to hate people because of it. But will the time come when we’re no longer watching for fun and are instead just watching?
Maybe, maybe not, but in the meantime, I think people are slowly becoming prepared for it. The Internet is no longer that safe space. Some will argue that it never was, but there’s no question that people, for a while, thought it was. For some reason they hadn’t quite comprehended that a written thought online actually equates to a spoken word in person, and without the benefit of hearsay. They felt that if it’s only on a computer screen, somehow that doesn’t make it real. Now we know better. The Internet is real, social media is real, and the way we use it is real. It’s no longer just Thoughtcrime, it’s Newspeak. And Big Brother is watching every word of it. Act accordingly.