“Thanks to my mother and father, <name> and <name>, and my sister <name>; it’s the continued love and support of family that made this possible. Thanks to all the brilliant people at <organisation>—especially <name>, <name>, <name>, <name>, <name> and <name>—for the long hours, and the many days and nights of dedication they put into this project. Believe me, I wouldn’t be up here if it wasn’t for you—tonight is as much for you as for me. So many thanks to my best friends in the world—<name>, <name> and <name>—for sticking by me through this whole thing and giving me all the support and love I could need—I love you guys. If I missed anyone, apologies…you know who you are. Thank you all.”
So what was that, then? Must be an Oscar’s acceptance speech, right? Guess again. But surely whoever said it must’ve just won something—a Grammy or an Emmy? Nup, try again. A Logie or an ARIA or a Brit Award? Nope, it’s none of those.
Regular imbibers of this (sometimes) humble opine-fest will know by now that, despite occasionally dabbling in it myself, I don’t really hold social media in the highest esteem (yes, I know—oh the irony!). Why? My reasons are many and varied—most, I daresay, not of the slightest interest to avid users—but I won’t bang on about them here.
Whatever my misgivings about the individual and societal impacts of social media, there’s one thing, in particular, that’s really struck me about the way that so many users of this ubiquitous all-pervading beast have come to engage with fellow users.
No, I’m not about to launch into that tired old accusation of narcissism, so often leveled at social media users.
Actually, I’m not often lost for words, but it’s proving difficult to find a single word that accurately reflects what I’m trying to say—’altruism’, maybe? Whatever the word, the action I’m trying to describe seems somehow less calculated than the really narcissistic stuff; that is, the actions themselves are clearly intentional, but the result possibly isn’t. Or, at least, not consciously. Maybe. I think…
The selfies, the check-ins, the constant updates about our every thought and move, and don’t even get me started on all the photos of food and drink! All of that stuff falls into the narcissism bucket. We make almost unconscious assumptions that everyone who can see what we post wants to know everything about what we’re doing, where we’re going and how we look, whether at the time or after the fact; they want to know exactly what we’re thinking and to hear all about the fiddle-faddle and frippery of our day-to-day. But there’s something else going on here too—perhaps a variant of altruism, if not true altruism.
It’s that “everyone” thing. “Can everyone please copy and paste this to their own status?”… “Thanks everyone for all the <insert topic> messages”… who is this “everyone”? Does “everyone” only apply if we generate a 100% response rate from our list of social media comrades? Or, in the event of a less-than-100% hit rate, do we actually use it to make those who didn’t react feel guilty?
Or has “everyone” just morphed into another of those catch-all words, like “guys” before it, that’s now used to address any proportion of a total number of people? For example, if I had 479 Facebook friends and 42 of them posted birthday wishes, is an 8.7% hit rate sufficient for me to use “everybody” when thanking them? Or would I only say it if I wanted to have a go at the 91.3% of so-called Friends who made no online reference to my birthday at all?
And as if all the variations of friends and “everyone” wasn’t confusing enough, Twitter users (whether celebrity or pleb) also have “followers”, which is quite similar to “fans”. But there’s something almost sinister about “followers”. Charles Manson had followers. David Koresh had followers. L. Ron Hubbard had followers. Do the likes of us ordinary folk really want “followers”?
Or maybe that’s the answer? Or even the question? Despite the disturbing lack of clarity that’s permeated this post thus far, maybe I just found the answer to the question I’ve been trying but largely failing to pose?
Coz whether or not we consciously set out to achieve a response rate, there’s a reassuring sense of popularity that comes with the number of Retweets and Likes that our social media posts receive, isn’t there? We like “everyone” looking at what we’re saying. We’re being noticed. We’re being agreed with. We’re being envied. Why else would we post in the first place? It’s ego-inflating.
YouTubers have long had “fans”; maybe it’s become so much a part of the new normal that the rest of us now think of our own social media buddies as fans, too? After all, they’re following us because (presumably) they want to, because they like us and want to know about our day-to-day existence, because they want to see photos of what we’re doing, where we’re going and what we have; basically, because they want to envy us—as if they were our fans.
And, knowingly or otherwise, we now respond accordingly.
Every time something happens, we take to status updates as if we’re sweeping gracefully up onto a stage, accepting a big shiny lump of gold or glass, then giving thanks, acceptance speech-style, to everyone we ever knew. It’s nice, I guess. It’s a bit tedious too, to be honest.
Oh and in case you hadn’t worked it out yet, that ‘acceptance speech’ back at the beginning of this—it was a Facebook post about going for a mini-break in the mountains (and don’t worry, I’m not publicly shaming anyone I know—believe it or not, there are others in the world who rant about this stuff too!).
The post was written by a lady whose baby hadn’t slept properly, if at all, for most of its short life; she and her partner had taken their infant daughter through one of those sleep training assessment course thingos for about a year. Once they’d finally gotten her into a wake/sleep routine that seemed to be working, they decided to take themselves off for dinner and an overnight stay at a luxury resort, far away from where they lived in the US state of Vermont, leaving the child in the care of relatives.
So no, despite the Academy Awards acceptance speech histrionics, it was just someone going out for dinner and thanking a bunch of people for some stuff they did. It’s unlikely this lady—or anyone, for that matter—would ever verbalise such gushy sweeping praise in everyday conversation, but she obviously felt that her much-needed weekend away was the culmination of the combined efforts of all these people, and that they were, therefore, deserving of the praise she heaped on them via social media; that half the people referenced weren’t tagged and, as such, weren’t likely to actually see the online praise apparently didn’t detract from the woman’s desire to post it.
In the olden days, people used to write letters and send cards through the post to thank each other for stuff. Later, they wrote emails for the same purpose. Today we use online public forums and social media to talk about, to talk to and/or thank people who’ll possibly never see what we’ve said (assuming they’re old enough to read at all); it’s a wonder anyone ever feels appreciated for anything any more.
What a different place today’s world might be, if only we quit the Oscars speeches and actually thanked each other again.