Is There Anybody Out There?

It was three months ago now that I got lucky enough to be named as a contest winner by the Poetry Society. Ever since then, it’s easy to work out who on my friend’s list wasn’t aware of the fact. There’ll be a retweet of my pinned post (presumably as they went to my profile after an absence) normally followed by a couple of other retweets of notable stuff. It happened twice yesterday, and that dissemination of current thoughts caused, for the second time in less than a week, an interesting crossover of disparate lives.

It has set me thinking this morning about who is actually listening .

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Conflict can be quite difficult to instigate, if truth be told. You might have a five digit follower count but if the majority of those people don’t give a fuck over your latest personal crusade, it can be quite hard to motivate your ‘army’ into battle. There’s a lot of luck involved in viral involvement too: I didn’t realise this for a while, but there’s entire networks of users whose sole task in life is to favourite and retweet each other in the hope that one post gets the legs required to become a trend.

This was also the principle behind an abortive Twitter app I was using a while back: social media is a game, and therefore can be flipped and resold just as is the case in the Real World. Speculation with words however is a lot less predictable after a certain point: undoubtedly there are levels of success, but absolutely nothing beats the unscripted, unscheduled rant or the brilliant piece of visual gold that turns the normal and mundane into a viral sensation.

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The concept of ‘virtual stock’ has already been gamed to within an inch of it’s life: Klout and all the other variants of online kudos only work if you’re prepared to completely buy into the lifestyle. For someone like me who won’t touch Facebook ever again, there’s no point in even bothering with any of this stuff regardless. I’ve already burnt the all-access bridge. Instagram as a result is just a lovely place to post pictures. Twitter’s usefulness remains as research tool and chat channel long before brands or products are involved.

Looking at how little people actually read about my stuff isn’t a surprise or disappointment, its completely normal. In fact, in that regard I’m really quite pleased, because it means that there’s nobody potentially to worry about in terms of stalking or compulsive behaviour. Right now, obsession with self is abundantly and often painfully obvious, which means that the best tool when dealing with contention is undoubtedly silence.

It is very tempting as a social media user to, the moment people pop up and lay contention to your assertions, to have a rage at them. In fact, the more I think about it, the more likely it is that there’s a subset of people for whom this platform’s sole task is to facilitate such anger. Any opportunity to remind your readership how ignorant other people are, or to reinforce how smart and clearly enlightened you are compared with others is seized with often celebratory glee.

That’s all well and good, but there’s a crucial point that is perennially overlooked: people get the right to do this. No, this isn’t a free speech rant, it’s just a fact. If you disagree, that’s perfectly fine. If 1000 other people all weigh in with likes that you disagree, also great, but without the OP deciding to argue the point? There’s nothing. It’s just a statement. If your thought is fundamentally harmful or based on untruths, expect there to be a bit more friction.

It’s that whole thing about Opinions and Facts all over again.

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John’s point is spot on, and it goes both ways: Opinions are NOT Facts. However much you want to argue that someone clearly doesn’t understand how you feel and therefore you must be right as a result, that’s not how this works. It’s not how ANY of this works. People can say stuff, and unless they have the facts to back it up, it remains simply an opinion. You can disagree all you like, but it won’t ever be an argument unless that other person chooses to make it one.

It is why the silence of one person on my timeline right now speaks volumes. If you know you’re wrong, keep quiet. If you don’t want to start an argument when provoked, keep quiet. I think of all the famous people who probably voraciously ingest social media using aliases all the time but would never in a million years use it as their real selves. I think of those with interesting enough lives to not even need it. Then there’s consideration of those who do use it without the first clue of how to protect themselves and others, and there’s a rabbit hole you may never emerge from…

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Detaching yourself from immersive things can be hard. Cultivating the personality of ‘someone has made a mistake on the Internet and I must fix it’ mindset’s really tough too, because if there’s enough of a reciprocal relationship going on between you and it, reality will inevitably warp around the virtual with far more force. Undoubtedly that’s because most of us, in one way or another, are here to escape something. If you’re solid and well-adjusted, Twitter’s just a diary. Not your agony aunt or your soapbox. Definitely not a place for sexytimes, absolutely not as useful as being outside.

How you use this place isn’t about who’s really listening, its all to do with how it fits into an extremely subjective notion of reality. That means for the vast majority of people you read, you post, that’s all it is. For every person who emotionally invests too much, there’s another just staring at people’s genitalia for kicks. What you do with content’s irrelevant, until you break laws. In ten years from now a lot of people will wish they never came here, and freedom will look an awful lot different than it does now.

The blame for those changes will be everybody’s to shoulder.