Wisdom? No thanks, I’ll Just Babble & Tweet


Intellectual flatulence takes the day


One of the more depressing realizations I’ve had over the past decade with the proliferation of social media on the internet is many people’s preference for the inane, the superfluous. I won’t get into the grittier details of the babble that people indulge in on forums like FaceBook as I’ve done such prior (see: FaceBook: People’s 15 Megabytes of Fame, August 7, 2011).

Some people who I’ve had the highest respect for have gone out of their way to make clear to me that they have little or no time for this publication, even as they pour their souls into the likes of FaceBook and God knows what other thought puddles.

Fair enough.

We’re all very busy and choices must be made about how we spend that very precious and limited commodity: time. My prima dona writer’s ego will recover. And while I want to think that my utterances on these pages are Periclean wisdom, they are not. It’s fair to say that all too often, more sage insight can be had by reading an Archie & JugHead comic book than my missives.

But then when I look at the time and energy that such people place into the trite babble on social media platforms, I almost wish they were constantly reading and following the wisdom of Archie and/or JugHead.

And the choice to partake in such mental atrophy, by otherwise intelligent people, has me wondering what is going on.

Daniel Henninger wrote a good op-ed piece last week in The Wall Street Journal (“The Age of Indiscretion”, April 26, 2012) in which he talks about the official death of discretion. Mr Henninger says that “the new age’s booster rocket, the thing that finally killed discretion, was social media…..Social media of its nature is about compulsion and revelation.” Yes, indeed.

But such explains how we reveal what we do, to the world, but not why and, better yet, why we waste our time on such trite claptrap?

I believe there are three reasons why otherwise intelligent and reasonable people pick the gibberish of social websites over more heavy thinking: 1) a need to control the conversation; 2) a need to feel important; and 3) perhaps caused by the prior two, what can best be described as a dopamine spike when using sites like FaceBook.

Regarding the first, Maslow, Freud and the rest of the immortalized official observers of the human condition have listed the various human motivators and, if not already mentioned, I’d like to add the desire to control: whether one’s self or, better yet, others. FaceBook affords a person full control of what a person writes (or shows), even if the person is figuratively out of control as is often the case in social media. Thus, a person controls not only their communications but also what the viewer is seeing. And whether we realize and wish to admit it, we are creatures that, in large part, do not control our every day selves. Whether having to be at work, a child’s event, or social confab, we are controlled by a calendar and others. But when we go to a social media site, it is we and only we who are in the pilot’s seat.

The second, a need to feel important, is very easy to understand, especially if you are a husband and father in this day and age, like myself. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most of the people who shares their thoughts on the social media that I have perused likely do not go to Board of Directors meetings nor are the first person that the State Department calls when a diplomatic crisis needs fixing. People know that and, thus, search for a forum where they can be the focal point. Social media provides this.

Finally, the tv show 60 Minutes did a piece last night on bad habits and the brain chemical dopamine, which has been tied to feelings of pleasure, to put it very loosely. One could make the argument that the relative ease and lack of any strictures of social media cause a dopamine rush, which is what attracts people to social media. After all, there is no right or wrong for material on social media; the only requirement is just “showing up,” to borrow from Woody Allen’s formula for success.

It’s easy to think that, as we are in the Age of Kardashian, this is the new norm and it is here to stay. And certainly one can make the argument that today is just part of the cultural linear descent that began in the 1960s. Yet this country has shown a remarkable resilience and self-corrective reflex when needed. Let’s hope it shows such again as I would hate to think I left my kids a cultural legacy of babble, tweets and intellectual flatulence.

-I.M. Windee

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