Social media, digital communication channels, and cell phones often get accused of alienating people, enabling bullies, and breaking down the human ties which are the foundation of society.
Bullshit. Personally, I am far happier on a day-to-day basis thanks to these technological tools. They have added considerable love, meaning, joy, and value to my life. With their help, I’ve been able to offer nurturing and support to far more people I care about than ever would have been possible otherwise.
So I wasn’t surprised when a recent Pew study found that 85% of adult who use social networking sites say that people are mostly kind. Also, 68% reported they’d had a experience on social media that made them feel good about themselves, and 61% had experiences that made them feel closer to another person.
There are few things I love more than a brilliant parody. This spoof commercial, by commercial director Jesse Rosten, shows exactly why plastering media with unachievable ideals of feminine beauty hurt women. Which sounds like a really heavy point to make. But this is fun. That’s the art of really making a point.
Probably like most people, I’ve been hearing about the Occupy movement through media, both news coverage and social media. I won’t pretend to understand it, I haven’t been following closely. But it has bugged me how I keep hearing that the movement lacks clarity and focus.
Yesterday I listened to an excellent Radio Open Source podcast episode. Christopher Lydon interviewed Mark Blyth, a political economist at Brown University, about what he’s been learning about the Occupy movement by talking to protestors in Boston — and putting it into a global economic, social, and historic context that I found sobering.
One point Blyth made that particularly struck me — and that I especially wish every journalist would take to heart — is this: The labor movement didn’t come out of nowhere. It didn’t spring into being fully formed with collective bargaining and arbitration procedures. It coalesced gradually, in fits and starts, from a society struggling with the “volatility constraint” that comes with rampant inequality.
Birth is messy. Infants aren’t born talking in complete sentences. So don’t look at the Occupy movement expecting this:
Boticelli's "Birth of Venus"
After listening to all the context Blyth offered, I suspect we’re watching the earliest phases of a different kind of labor movement: the labor pangs that precedes the birth of something that might eventually walk and talk. Something that probably won’t go by the name “Occupy.”
I only hope the world can collectively raise this baby right.
Just because someone posts something personal online doesn’t mean it’s OK to use that to manufacture a faux-personal connection in order to persuade them to do you a favor.
Case in point: Yesterday a clueless media relations professional whom I do not know sent me an e-mail with the subject line: “I sent a poem to a wannabee crotchety old bitch.” He was alluding to my recent birthday post, in which I reflected on aging.
The comment this person attempted to append to that post — which I did not approve — was the poem When I am an old woman I shall wear purple. That was in itself a mistake, though not a fatal one. If ever there was an overused, reflexive cliche response to any woman who mentions aging in a positive light, that poem would be it.
So this PR guy e-mailed me to let me know he’d tried to post that comment. Here’s the start of his message, and where he really screwed up…
It’s on a similar theme, with a twist: The collective, self-reinforcing cognitive dissonance and fervent but meaningless arguments that keeps sports fandom and the pro sports industry rolling — and why the people involved in pro sports probably shouldn’t draw attention to that fact. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, and all that.
I think you might be able to search-and-replace the sports references here with references to politics, religion, smartphone platforms, or news/media brands, and it would still work.
Right now I’m reading Seth Mnookin’s Panic Virus — a book about the bad science, bad science media coverage, and quirks of human psychology that fostered the anti-vaccine movement (by parents concerned that vaccines cause autism, despite the wealth of peer-reviewed science to the contrary).
I’m reading it because I’m fascinated and concerned why people (sometimes in large numbers) tend to cling to beliefs/positions fiercely long after they’ve been factually debunked/disproven, whether by science or by journalistic, legal, or other systematic investigation. (WMD, anyone?)
This kind of anti-fact, anti-science backlash tends to really confuse and frustrate journalists and scientists.
It sucks when you work really hard to do the fairest, most systematic investigation of a topic that deeply affects many people’s lives — but the very people who are suffering most from the topic of your research refuse to believe what you have to say, or accuse you of being part of some conspiracy to hoodwink them. And meanwhile, your less skilled or less ethical colleagues are producing their own research and reports designed to foster fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
That generates considerable friction, controversy, and conflict. And worse, it delays the discovery and implementation of real solutions.
Why does this happen — and what can journalists and scientists do about it?…
Given that groups often have considerable reach and influence, it makes sense for news organizations to actively engage local or relevant groups, especially via social media.
The online activities of groups are now a key channel for news, information, communication, and engagement for most Americans. It makes sense to build bridges with these channels in order to reach wider audiences and listen more effectively to community issues and concerns.
Which is yet another reason for the news business to get over its traditional stance of aloofness/separation from the community under the fig leaf of objectivity.
Last weekend, the cover of the Boston Globe Sunday magazine featured a good story about a topic I know well: polyamory. In Love’s New Frontier, Globe writer Sandra Miller did a far better job explaining this approach to relationships than most mainstream publications do. No wide-eyed, mock-shock sensationalism.
As a polyamorous person, I was rather tickled that this topic got such prominent play. I figured: Cool! There goes a chunk of the vocabulary gap!
If you haven’t heard the term, polyamory means being open to having more than one intimate relationship at a time, with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved.
Yes, I realize any new term sounds awkward until you get used to it. So: Get used to it. Because here’s what the vocabulary gap looks like to a poly person…
I just finished reading a killer classic fiction mashup (literally), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It’s a parody of the Jane Austen novel (which I tried to read in college and found unbearably tedious).
I must admit, though: The addition of a Night of the Living Dead-style zombie plague made all the endless fretting and plotting over how to presentÂ oneself as appropriately marriageable in polite society surprisingly entertaining and understandable.
Because the thing is: The strictures of British aristocratic society — particularly how women were held in chattel status, and the ceaseless power plays of verbal indirection — were indeed nightmarish, soul-destroying, and cannibalistic.
Therefore, I don’t think it’s a stretch to consider this book a seminal feminist treatise. (God knows we need more entertaining seminal works of feminism!)
If you read this book (and I recommend it) don’t miss the reader’s discussion guide at the end. It contains 10 questions. Here are a couple of my favorites…