Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My virtual presence has been piss-poor.

Wow, so I maintain a blog, huh? You mean to say that I regularly write entries and manage a website that I happen to be very proud of and hope to use as part of my portfolio when I want to get into a PhD program? You don't say...

Alright, enough beating myself up about not maintaining this thing lately. I obviously went on a hiatus. I hope you all can forgive me.

Enough about that. Let's talk about new media.

I'm getting really sick of everyone mocking Twitter or downplaying it as usefulness. Yes, a lot of it is mundane, trite, self-indulgent, abbreviated prattle that doesn't do anyone any amount of good, save establish a user's presence in a community. But hold on. Even something as seemingly insignificant as presence means so much in an online environment, especially since virtual environments are increasingly becoming appendages to our real world interactions and selves.

There are obviously negative and positive aspects to the information digital age, where to access headlines, statistics, biographical information, and wikis allows anyone with Internet connection a chance to obtain as much knowledge as they know how to get their eyes on. While unfettered access to information allows almost every literate individual the right and possibility of a self-fueled education, not everyone is going to take advantage of these tools of unlimited access. Only those who want to participate will participate, only those who want to start a conversation will start on. The category of an engaged virtual participator only applies to a very small percentage of individuals who have high efficacy in their involvement in a community setting in the first place. Those who make the effort to establish their presence in a community, be it actual or in the ether, are few and far between. Think of activists. Think of religious fanatics. Think of hard-core sports nuts. How many of us really know someone, in real life, who is whole-heartedly dedicated to an extremist lifestyle? And these extreme life-participants now exist in another form: the extreme virtual participant.

I have only a handful of friends who regularly post interesting news stories to their Facebook pages, and maybe just as many whose profile photo is in a constant state of flux. Almost all of my Facebook friends, however, utilize the status update tool, seemingly as a way of establishing their presence in this community. The difference between those who post breaking or interesting headlines on their pages and those who constantly change their "About Me" sections is actually quite minimal when it comes down to it: both of these groups from assumed extreme opposite spectrums are simply overtly and unabashedly establishing their virtual presence in a community. And in some cases, their presence is quite similar to what it would be in face-to-face interaction. Not always, but in some cases, our virtual selves mirror our realities.

Some don't attempt to depict themselves in the ether because they are tentative about putting their information out there for all to see -- proof that shyness does indeed plague those in a seemingly objective and open online world -- while some simply don't see the point. I believe that those who are so adamantly against Twitter fall into the latter category of those who just don't see the point. And sometimes, I don't either.

But I don't think that it matters that we all understand everyone's personal need or desire to blog, to tweet, or to connect on Facebook. I don't think that chalking it up to narcissism and self-indulgence is fair. I posted something on my Facebook page about how Iranians are spreading news via Twitter, and one friend quipped "Cuz that's what the vast majority of people use it for." Both extremes of the argument are, I feel, inaccurate: to say that everyone uses Twitter and other social networking sites for the dissemination of information would be an optimistic fallacy; to say that everyone uses these sites to tell their friends what kind of sandwich they ate at lunch is equally unfair. I think it is most fair to say that Twitter offers possibilities for freedom of speech and access to information, which is admittedly a fairly neutral statement. But to avoid sounding too polarized -- too praising or too negative -- I think that the conversation of what Twitter and other social networking sites can do is far more productive than straight up negations or praise.

Because these sites and the possibility of a democratic (mostly) virtual presence is all so new, people are still trying out the waters. We all saw how quickly Myspace fell into the depths of the Dark Side of the Internet, and who knows how much longer it will be before Facebook gives way to a social networking site with a more user-friendly interface and better privacy settings? Twitter could easily go the way of the LiveJournal any time soon, but for the time being, I'm going to play around with my presence on the site as much as I can.

1 comment:

That Rinaldi Guy said...

I don't see anything about the Oscars in this post...

That's it. I'm going to have to start my own blog.