Digital Humanities

Social Media as One or Many

Wednesday, 31st October 2018

Everywhere I look in the past week it seems like there’s death and sadness. The big obvious ones – innocent Jews slaughtered in Pittsburgh, a plane crash in Indonesia. Small ones – one of our kitchen designers told me today that two other people they worked with, husband and wife, left on a short vacation while the kitchen was finished up. They had a car crash – both lingered for awhile but passed away. And then, someone on my feed wrote a very poignant tribute to a friend of 50 years who contracted dementia 6 years ago, didn’t recognize his old friend 3 years ago, and passed away today. I know it’s been said, but it feels like winter is coming.

It is perhaps an understated problem of social media – with lots of connections comes lots of pain. And, also, lots of success and happy stories too, of course, which can also end up making one’s own life feel grey. That’s not rational, of course, but it feels like the social media screen is one thing, one unified voice which has a far more interesting life than I do, and also far more pain, and more anger, and more everything.

Perhaps we need a social media interface that represents one’s entire friends list as a crowd, with bubbles over each head, and we could get a sense that it’s not just one voice speaking, but one voice out of hundreds, and most are just carrying on, just as in the material world. Maybe too we could get those bubbles tying themselves together, or those friends in the crowd moving around, closer to some and further away from others, based on interactions and affinities.

If we saw the crowd, we might see that the balance of happiness, and also of pain and sadness, aren’t everywhere, and I wouldn’t be tempted to calibrate my mood based on that one collective voice.

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