These class-assigned articles for reading are sometimes pretty great. This one is one of those articles but instead of making me go whoa the internet It makes me realize I’ve spent more of my life on an internet devoid of social media than my peers. ‘Peers’ being a generous way of making implicit that everywhere I turn in my classes, I’m surrounded by people a decade my junior, or more.
First: ‘Dark Social’ networking is the more normal to me than some alternative, so if I seem dismissive of social media it’s because I think of it like a high school hallway. If you look at the general level of literacy on Facebook you’ll find I’m being extremely generous in calling it high school. If you didn’t click on that link I’ll sum it up for you: the average advertising post was written at a 5th-grade level and the average user post was written at a First-Grade level. Let that sink in, and then maybe have a good cry.
As an aside: the best social sharing website I’ve ever used was Google Reader before they discontinued it to force people onto Google+. This was, to me, a stupid, stupid, stupid move. It capitalized on this notion of direct person-to-person link sharing by making it an RSS reader that already had all of your contacts in it, so you could curate your own news feeds,m subscribe to friends feeds to see what they were doing, rate things, comment on it, and facilitate dialogue. If you could force all the people doing that onto G+, you’d immediately have a social network worth talking about. Of course, it didn’t happen. Why would it? G+ is a shitty, pale imitator to facebook that tried to strongarm existing gmail users into participating, plagued by poor decisions and weak design, and ultimately left to rot away until the recent announcement of it’s split into a number of smaller platforms.
So what does this have to do with so-called Dark Social content?
Well, for one, it predates social media. The tools are already there, baked into internet communities that don’t exist inside a Facebook group. Public and Private forums with their own digital cliques, encrypted chat apps, IRC… ask yourself how much news you really click on from some social media site? I can’t speak for everyone, but most of the links I see are posted to the grammatical level above: childlike, with a very basic presentation and obvious slant. Why would anyone go there for news when you probably want to develop a personal information network between friends and colleagues with shared interests? I care more about a link someone shares if I know they’re smarter than a 5th grader, and I care a lot less about something that tells me what I will and won’t believe happens next.
I’ve been doing it this way forever. Since I was a moody teenager with an internet connection and an online handle that changed with the seasons, since I hopped on myspace the first time, since I hung out in IRC chatrooms all night listening to music and since using my first set of chat programs (ICQ WHAT). The assumption that most traffic should come through social sites is baffling, because they’ve always just been a way to get you to look at advertisements and, if they’re lucky, get you to do the heavy lifting of doing the advertising yourself.
I could end here and pat myself on the back for having written a response to a reading, but I think there is one more thing to touch on.
I get that it’s easy to click share, like, and ignore a post on Facebook. I get that it feels comfortable to have that stream poured out to you full of familiar faces and ideas and opinions you probably agree with. It’s designed to do that. It wants you to feel that, and it’s wrong. How honest can it be if you see an endless stream of content that just satisfies you? Maybe it satisfies your need to feel indignation at political wrongdoings, or your need for cat pictures or whatever. I don’t care what, but it’s limiting in scope, and it traps you. You get a tunnel vision that blinds you to so much when you get used to seeing things a certain way, and a convenience of a feed, managed, curated, and manipulated by a company, isn’t a healthy way to feed your mind.
Your mind needs to be fed, and it needs a lot of different flavours and foods to stay healthy. Music you wouldn’t listen to normally, art you wouldn’t look at otherwise, news you wouldn’t care about, unless you made the effort. If everyone on facebook is, by measurements, really stupid, you have to be the smart that other people need. You need to find content somewhere else and bring it into the conversation that goes on. Go find some obscure music you like, or a picture you’ve never seen before, or read about something completely new to you and share it.
Some people will call you a “Hipster” for “trying too hard” and “being pretentious” but what the fuck does that even mean? You aren’t pretending at anything, and of course you’re trying hard! Why should effort be ridiculed? Why should a title scare you away from trying to better the world around you by making it more diverse, more beautiful and interesting, more rich and vibrant and worth experiencing?
If you’re going to share with everyone, share something new. If you’re going to use Facebook or Twitter or some other platform, elevate the content, don’t just recycle the same themes. Be that person your friends always share from instead of the person who just hits share.