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Regression To the Meme

One argument against the up-vote / down-vote system is that promotes groupthink, but I argue that a bigger issue is the constant promotion and strive towards positive reinforcement.

Consider four of the major social network systems.

-Facebook: The “Like” system

-Reddit: Karma and points

-Youtube: Top comments, thumbs up

-Twitter: Retweets, favorites

 This is not a crusade against memes or beloved pictures of cats in zany situations.

I argue it’s fundamentally affecting the way we communicate and act.

Quick caveat, I’m not saying that it’s better to be boring. Simply that the stakes to be ‘entertaining’ have been raised. When everyone has their sources of comedic relief to draw from, everyone becomes an aspiring comedic writer.

The very act of sharing / reposting that photo from “Funny Fails” creates this self-perpetuating cycle. You become an ad for your sources – be it 4chan, 9gag, etc.

This has made it more an effort to be witty, or I should say, entertaining – socializing and ‘humor’ have long been held as respectable things. Conversations stop, it is socially acceptable to check your phone a source of one-liners when your friends sources repeated verbatim aren’t entertaining enough.

-NB – as more of our communication becomes removed from face-to-face (texting, online dating, chatting) – it’s easier to become complacent, to take the time to think of a thoughtful / witty response online. The kicker is that in an actual social setting, you don’t get the removed aspect of time.

 Those moments of silence in actual conversation where you brain shorts out – no clever remark comes to mind, what do you say? Better to say nothing at all and check your texts.

We don’t like being reminded that we are all running out of time. So, we’ve devised ways to make time appear longer by making the divisions more precise – milliseconds in gaming, instant response times, real-time updates. Access from information anywhere in the world can make you feel like you’re vicariously experiencing entire days in minutes.

Updates now occur instantaneously, anyone can report the ‘news’ if they have a phone and 140 characters.

The problem is a mis-match of the technology that enables real-time updates, instant responses and boring old real-life.

Consider goal-setting and the rise of ‘time -optimization’ I argue that this has become less intuitive  due to this increased precision of time measurements:

A school “quarter” seems a lot longer, abstract,  compared to a millisecond of lag or 95+ realtime updates in 5 minutes.

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“I could have read 10,000 tweets by the time it took to read this!”

The Pomodoro technique, all these little tricks to put your brain ‘on-task’ – are attempts at an anti-dote to the time wasters.

We’ve gotten to a point where we demand our entertainment to be this way too. Want to contribute to Reddit? Hope your tl-dr makes the cut.

 It has spread to other areas as well: Networking? Hope you’ve got a 10 second elevator pitch. Interviewing? Spin your best story fast. Dating? Hope your wit is enough to sustain a profile glance.

It demands speed.

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A symbol of a generation.

As the world becomes more connected online, a paradox becomes more apparent. We’re all next to each other physically but mentally we’re all a thousand miles away in our own personal spheres of the information bubble – staring our screens.

It’s easier to become bored when your perception of time have become skewed contrast between availability of information (real-time updates, streaming TV shows) and ‘real’ life that lags behind (a casual conversation, waiting in line, traveling from one place to another)

We constantly thirst because we’ve been exposed to the seductive, individual moments of other people’s lives framed through a sepia filter. We sit at our table wondering why we aren’t having as good of a time our friends who are posting pictures from the bar and in a vicious cycle, the conversations we desire to continue to cease as everyone looks back down to swipe up and down.

We want to be unique, yet we repost others images from one of hundreds of templates. What better way to demonstrate that you can wittily express  your boredom waiting in-line than through an e-card with the characters and  pre-made dialogue?

Conversation itself becomes a sit-com dialogue and it’s being constructed one line at a time. If you aren’t talking about what happened on last night’s show, you’ll still talk in a manner that is like last night’s show.

The problem is when your writers all hit that block. When your material runs out. Those moments are what will define you.

When you are made of trailers, what is left of the featured presentation?

Categories: 2013 Winter Writing Contest, Uncategorized.

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5 Responses

  1. mackytrajanApril 28, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

    Great, great stuff.

    I’ve been thinking about this lately, the nature in which our mediums of entertainment and methods of preserving moments are affecting our perception of time. This way in which we’re recording and recalling events as they unfold in real time is uncanny. For example, I am not even joking when I say that I notice this, and you will find it on any website where the main demographic is 17-30 like Reddit, but there are 19 year olds, NINETEEN YEAR OLDS who feel nostalgic about their youth — Saturday morning cartoons, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Pokemon… as if being a kid is now a time long gone.

    Incredibly spot on about the way we’ve started parsing our time into smaller and smaller bits — everyday is like a task in logistics and efficiency. Can I get home, eat lunch, and do laundry in 35 minutes? I’ll sleep for 10 more minutes, if I skip breakfast, I can make it to work in 10. I’ll get the chips and salsa last because they’re in the aisle closest to the checkout line.

    Meanwhile, there are hours, years lost in a daze in front of the TV.

    Also something a bit unrelated, but I find the “Like” button of Facebook to be one of the most incredible aspects of it. It may certainly apply to your notion of groupthink on a larger scale, such as when celebrities make status updates or have fan pages with hundreds of thousands of likes, but the Like button works on a completely different nature on the smaller, more interactive scale with regular people, mostly in the way that it relieves people of having to come up with responses to comments on statuses, etc. Don’t know what to say? Just like their comment. It simultaneously lets us off the hook of having to interact with them while letting the other person know that we still acknowledged them. And then both parties can go their separate ways.

    Sorry about the tangents, but awesome article!

  2. In twenty years or so, when the church will finally have lost all meaning and authority, people will stop celebrating marriage and will celebrate facebookstatuschanging instead. It will still happen in an officially sanctioned, real building, the church of facebook, there will be complex rituals. Instead of exchanging rings, the two persons will stand in front of two old, archaic internet adapters called “personal computers” and press the decisive button, and all the guests will watch this whole thing through their augmented reality lenses, and they will not react to the thing in front of them, but to the facebook pop-up in the left corner.

    Yeah, okay, maybe not exactly like that. :D But still, it seems like we are increasingly in need of a display in front of our face that mediates between our senses and reality, for fear of reality not being real enough without it.

  3. Excellent work.

    Instantaneous feedback is frightening in its power and corruptibility. People are no longer friends, relatives, or peers; they are feedback loops. Our goal in society appears to be managing human input until only positive feedback loops exist, allowing only reinforcing, comforting responses to dictate our actions.

    Many people seem to believe that access to more information via social media will somehow dismantle the woes of human existence, as if people will seek new, enlightening information. As you said, msynapse, “One argument against the up-vote / down-vote system is that promotes groupthink, but I argue that a bigger issue is the constant promotion and strive towards positive reinforcement.” People will only seek information that reinforces their misconceptions, particularly about themselves. The availability of more “friends” creates a situation where people need not leave the house for additional social gratification. Social media are a path of least resistance to self-aggrandizement.

    Feedback is infectious, even to those who recognize it. For instance, what if this comment I am writing is ignored, not posted, or deleted? Does it mean it’s bad, worthless? Should I ever post again? What if it is liked? Should I keep posting in order to gather more gratification? Does it mean my comments actually matter? What if…. ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

  4. “Don’t know what to say? Just like their comment. It simultaneously lets us off the hook of having to interact with them while letting the other person know that we still acknowledged them. And then both parties can go their separate ways.” mackytrajan, I see this phenomena happen more and more frequently, both in virtual reality and in actual reality (if you can even call it reality anymore — I, for one, have trouble deciphering which is which sometimes). People don’t have conversations anymore; we have acknowledgements that someone else is in the room in between the tapping of our thumbs. If we’re even so lucky these days.

    The observation by msynapse on pre-made e-cards seems to me to be just a mirror image of the real world. We regurgitate messages and go through the motions of what we consider to be socially acceptable forms of communications, and rarely does anyone seem to extend even the slightest bit of additional effort in the process. For example, when’s the last time you sent someone a handmade, original birthday card? Fuck that — we don’t have the time to do that for the people who are supposedly dear to us. Instead we buy a 99 cent card at the gas station, or more than likely we forget it’s their birthday unless we get the reminder via Facebook, in which case we join the dozens of other assholes and feign a witty rendition of “happy birthday” that’s hopefully not an exact copy of the post before us. Right, because we’re unique.

    The same is true about our generic greetings and discussions about the weather. Who gives a fuck about the weather? As much as I long for my favorite kid’s cereals and NES sometimes, what I really long for is having a single hour of my life spent in the present, without the beckon call of my computer or cell phone, without needing the instant gratification of someone ‘liking’ something I said or did. I miss the days of my youth spent with others just being with one another, sometimes having great epiphanies and sometimes just embracing the silence between us as something real, something honest.

    As Forgotten Figure eluded to, I am among the many who no longer feel it necessary to actually leave my house in order to receive social satisfaction, hence, I troll websites like this while drinking tea, with two social media sites open on other tabs, hoping to find validation from one or more witty comments I’ve attempted to make today.

    What I meant to say here was “like”.

  5. You become an ad for your sources – be it 4chan, 9gag, etc.

    This is a really important, maybe the most important aspect, but I think the media can be separated from the temporal compression and communication habits a bit. Example: if you’ve ever had dinner with a Mediterranean family (or insert another fitting ethnicity of your preference here), you’ll have noticed a similar dynamic. Everybody talks at the same time, so you have no hope if you need more than 12 words to get your point across. You can only express what you can shout, and you have to shout it above everybody else. It’s not a linear, pass the ball sort of conversation; it’s much more a rugby scrum with everybody fighting for a moment of conversational supremacy. ‘Like’/upvote can be expressed with a shout of ‘You said it!’, ‘You can say that again!’, ‘Tell me about it!’ etc., and there are equivalent shouts of disapproval.

    The big difference is that you’re living that way without advertising that way of living. Having everything mediated by facebook and twitter widgets, though, is different. It brings that type of deliberation into everything with these labels attached: Is this postable? Can I capitalize on this in terms of likes by sharing it? Does it reflect who I think my peers think I should be? But this last question is functionally equivalent to: am I becoming who the media want me to be?

    I might be overstating the difference. Your Italian mama might be conditioning your communication just as much as reddit, but at least she’ll be around to make soup for you when you’re sick and show you how to change a diaper. HuffPo certainly won’t.

Got insight?