There’s a Time and a Cyberspace

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During the holiday season (which I deem as stretching from the first sign of fall foliage through New Year’s Day), my apartment is decked out. I’m talking red and yellow leaves suspended from the ceiling, multi-colored string lights, and mini pumpkins with Sharpie-drawn faces. My enthusiasm is boundless and turns an otherwise “adult” apartment into a child’s playground. I have a flair for whimsy and love showing it all year round, but the fall semester particularly exemplifies this personality quirk.

It’s a random way to start a blog post about social media pet peeves, but I believe that it’s necessary to understand my offline identity before understanding my view of the online persona. And while Don Slater discusses the concept of disembodiment in online identity being separate from physical presence in “Social Relationships and Identity Online and Offline,” I think I’m pretty consistent in my self-representation in both realms.

I’m a fan of using Facebook for “keeping in touch” purposes. This case of Slater’s disembedding is remarkable – that physical location is irrelevant. So that while I studied abroad in Paris (fun fact: I spent the past two years there), I never felt like the US was that far away. The friends list, with its low barriers of creating ties (thank you Nicole Ellison and Danah Boyd’s “Sociality Through Social Network Sites” for putting this notion into words!), even allows me to stay in contact with former hostel-mates from all over – all with whom I spent a maximum of three days sharing a physical location. While abroad, I took advantage of the aspects offered via Nancy Baym’s terms for evaluating social media. “Interactivity” allowed me to connect with my family and friends by sharing pictures of my voyages and blog posts detailing them further. “Reach” made life easier by letting me post them on Facebook for all to see instead of sending a million tedious emails. Skype’s “temporal structure” of synchronous communication let me narrate my photos to my grandmother and parents. It’s in this context that I came to value social media for its ability to bring us all together.

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This is where my pet peeve comes in. You know my festive apartment that I just told you about? Well, it also holds true for my online home: Facebook. My most recent posts are a status about my obsession with Starbucks popcorn and the Buzzfeed article “21 Moments That Will Get You Excited for Fall.” Neither post is controversial. You can disagree about the popcorn’s quality or comment that you aren’t looking forward to cool fall temperatures, but neither provokes a strong reaction. And that’s the way I like to keep it. To put it explicitly: My pet peeve is when people post provocative articles and statuses on Facebook. In my opinion, right or wrong, Facebook isn’t the place for potentially hurtful, dividing topics like religion and politics.

Partially why my Facebook is so P.C. is due to the context collapse — mentioned by both Michael Wesch in “An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube” and Ellison and Boyd — that occurred when I graduated high school and began Facebook friending former teachers. A period during which my family also decided to jump on the Facebook bandwagon. Not that I ever posted controversial material before. But since then it’s made even less sense to do so, seeing as, among all these adults who I respect and care about, not everyone is going to agree with me. Why would I post an article about my political views when I know that it will hurt some of these people, even if friends my own age may disregard it? A lack of Baym’s social cues online does not help either.

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Ashley Perez’s post “I’m Calling You Out: Stop Posting Politics on Facebook” concentrates on the presidential campaign season – which is definitely when already-existing arguments get a lot more heated – but her complaints are relevant at any time that contentious issues appear. Perez seems to embrace the same fairytale Facebook land I do in which we post cat videos and any of the myriad of Disney princess Buzzfeed articles. So I’m not alone in wanting it to stay this way! She mentions that trolling for political commentary is not community enforcing… unlike the way that Wesch saw YouTube. Discussions are rarely civil and no one actually listens to each other. Similar to what Wesch’s students noticed while partaking in “participant observation” over a webcam, however, political responses are also online manifestations of talking to yourself. Consider the lack of guarantee of synchronous communication as well as the victims of potential context collapse when bearing in mind the “reach” of your comment on a friend’s status – all of his/her friends see it, too. Is that productive? I get it — YouTube began the culture of empowerment, giving people platforms to talk about themselves. Social media is, after all, meant for the exchanging of ideas like the coffee houses that started it all. But know where to discuss what.

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Other platforms are better suited to this usage. Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube are more media-centric and open to user-generated content versus Facebook’s profile-centricity. Facebook and its predecessors were created with the intention of maintaining relationships, not challenging them with debates. Yeah, yeah, I know Facebook is becoming more and more content driven with the Newsfeed and all. But I prefer to keep my user-generated content on the light side. As my grandmother says: “It’s always better to laugh than cry.” And I’d rather laugh at a Buzzfeed article on ‘90s nostalgia than cry about a political meme that reminds me that my cousins don’t share my point of view.

Peace (literally, please).

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