Songs for the Struggling Artist


Social Media and Discussion
June 29, 2017, 5:25 pm
Filed under: Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

One of the weird things about sharing my writing on Facebook (which is where I collect the bulk of my views on the blog) is that, when it’s shared by others, I can sometimes see how people respond to my work without responding to me directly. On my own page, my friends are generally respectful and look at my work in the context of the person that wrote it, since they (most of them) know me. On other people’s posts of my work, I have seen some rather startling assumptions pop up. The most vivid example of this was a response to my Single Gender on a Train post. While most of my post was about being a woman in public, there was a bit about the distinction between that experience in NYC and in smaller places. The comment about the blog on my friend’s page seemed to be mostly in response to a single line in the piece, the one my friend pulled as a headline – a line about HRC and the urban/rural divide. A thing, by the way, that there have been endless think pieces about.

What was interesting about this response was how much of it depended on an assumption about my identity. The commenter seemed to think I was exhibiting signs of “urban paternalism.” She painted me as a sort of elitist liberal city snob with no idea what it was like out in the country. Her comment seemed to suggest I was one of those city slickers always being judgmental about those country folk.

If you know me and my history, you might already be finding this as hilarious as I did. Because, while I do currently live in NYC, I grew up in the hills of Virginia. My childhood home featured no telephone and no running water. I grew up with an outhouse. One of my chores was to fetch water from the creek. I had to walk half a mile on a dirt road to get to my nearest neighbor’s house to play. I think my rural credentials are pretty rock solid.

But that’s the thing, this rural/urban thing is such a knee jerk response. Folks read one sentence about the existence of a difference between these two places and suddenly we’re in a flame war. And I suspect that if this particular commenter had actually read the piece rather than the pull quote, she might have found we had more in common than she thought.

The divides we perceive are not as extreme as they seem on social media. Social media comments are not discussion; we get into trouble when we start to think they are. People post articles they haven’t read, videos they haven’t watched and other people comment based on those headlines and comments. And outrage ensues, with no one fully aware of the thing they are outraged about. This isn’t conversation. This isn’t discussion. I heard a comedian describe “discussion” on the internet as being a lot like shouting into traffic. It’s loud, it’s noisy and everyone’s busy trying to get somewhere else.

This makes me think about academic seminars wherein we read controversial material. For example, we read Freud in my Freshman Studies psychology class in college. One student was very upset that we were being asked to read the father of psychoanalysis, due to some of the sexist thinking he brought to the table. She couldn’t believe we’d been assigned to read this “monster.”

But, as my teacher pointed out, we have to read him to respond to him. We can’t ignore his ideas or get furious about the things he was wrong about without actually reading what he said. This was an important lesson for all of us – that we have to actually grapple with the content of something before we can argue with it and before we could argue with each other. We couldn’t just dismiss something out of hand. The most significant factor of those seminars was that we were all present for them. If someone said something controversial, we were in a position to investigate it, to explore it or to walk our own statements back, if we needed to. Behind every statement, behind every question was a person, a full human being.

I think it would behoove us to remember that this is also true about every article we read on line, and every video, and every comment. It is easy to forget the complexity of our humanity when we are looking at statements, or content or words that trigger us. I am as guilty of this as anyone. I have had intense emotional responses to seeing headlines or articles I haven’t read. I have felt their impact hours after seeing only their titles go by in my Facebook feed. It is natural to have reactions to information, especially when it is disconnected from the people who created it or shared it…but even so, it does feel like my responsibility now to fully read anything I feel inclined to respond to, either in the public forum of social media or in my own private space. I have had to discipline myself to only comment after reading, to only share after viewing, to remember that each and every person that posts, that writes, that comments is a human being and try to imagine what it would be like to be in a college seminar with them, human to human, idea to idea.

 

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 

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2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I grew up in an unfinished house with exposed studs, no ceiling and no running water. Maybe another reason we seem to be looking at the same landscape. 🙂

Comment by katmcdaniel

Sister (no) Running Water! How wild. Gen X sisters from the boonies. That’s pretty great. We WERE looking at a similar landscape in our youth! Thank you for sharing the landscape with me.

Comment by erainbowd




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