Monday, July 01, 2013

What Will You Write? For Whose Pleasure, For Whose Delight? Will Your Readers See Your Light?

Kevin Hartnett:

One of the initial promises of social media was that it might help ideas succeed on their own -- removing the old gatekeepers, whether Roman aristocrats or publishers, and democratizing how information circulates. But this isn’t quite how it has turned out.

...Social media is in fact not especially democratic. The most powerful people and institutions have the most Facebook fans and Twitter followers which means that content that serves their interests is much more likely to show up in your newsfeed. In the case of the Gatsby post, the scholars were mostly positive about the movie -- and it’s hard to imagine that the post would have had nearly the same readership if they’d hated it and thus the movie studio had ignored it. For people in the media, this kind of power sets up a dilemma that's not altogether different from the one authors faced in Cicero's time: the bigger the interests you please, the more likely you are to be read.

If I'm going to be slightly caustic about it, and why not, that supposed promise of social media provides a frisson of rags-to-riches fantasy to people who might otherwise consider themselves too savvy to waste money playing the lottery. The dream of a pure meritocracy dies hard, I suppose. But again: our eyes and ears tell us that most people are social animals who care more about fitting in and feeling comfortable than tormenting themselves with nuanced thinking for the sake of abstract ideals. Human nature isn't merely a frustrated urge toward disinterested inquiry awaiting the proper tool or organizational system to set it straight. New technologies will, ploosa shawnje, be used in service to the same old pursuits of glad-handing, status-seeking, ego-stroking and score-settling.