Social media is built on ambient relationships. You post, you tweet, you share; I read, I listen, I see. Maybe we interact briefly. But I can feel closeness to you without actually having it.
To make things even more complicated, we can exist on both sides—creators and consumers of other people’s thoughts, and each other’s. But so often I see what you’re doing, you see me, but we’re never quite talking to each other.
Modern internet socialization in a nutshell, right there. There’s some thoughts churning connecting it to thoughts about some of Sherry Turkle’s work, but I’ll save that for another time.
Via Kottke, an excellent article about friendship as you get older over at The Atlantic, by Jennifer Senior: “It’s Your Friends Who Break Your Heart“. It’s a fairly long read, and there’s a lot of good observations, so honestly just go read it. That said, a few bits that really struck a chord (or hit a nerve):
I’m not sure the hows or whys that discussion about the literary theory of the “death of the author” cropped up recently, but it did. Lindsay Ellis has an excellent video essay about it (and really, go watch the rest of her stuff while you’re at it). It covers a lot of ground, and also some of the impact that our current culture’s shift towards personal brand (and subsequent association of any work done with that brand) has on how we think about creators and their creations. Go watch:
This prompted a follow-up response by John Scalzi, which I think is also worth reading. In process of discussing how the author is not the book and the book is not the author, he noted:
One side effect of this is that you should expect that at one point or another the authors whose work you admire will disappoint you, across a spectrum of behaviors or opinions. Because they’re human, you see. Think of all the humans you know, who have never disappointed you in one way or another. Having difficulty coming up with very many? Funny, that.
(Don’t worry, you’ve disappointed a whole bunch of people, too.)
I think that’s a pretty salient point to remember these days. That’s not to excuse people who do terrible things, nor to say there isn’t merit in boycotting the work of someone who did terrible things. But if you treat every gaff or slight as unconscionable, you’re setting yourself to be constantly outraged and constantly disappointed. Everyone’s line is going to be different, though, and it’s your call on whether any particular occasion crosses that line. Relatedly:
A shitty human can write great books (or make lovely paintings, or fantastic food, or amazing music, etc), and absolutely lovely humans can be aggressively mediocre to bad artists. There is very little correlation between decency and artistic talent. You don’t need to be a good human in order to understand human behavior well enough to write movingly about it; remember that con men are very good judges of character.
With that said, if you discover that the writer of one of your favorite novels (or whatever) doesn’t live up to your moral or ethical standards, you’re not obliged to give them any more of your time or attention, because life is too short to financially or intellectually support people you think are scumbags. Likewise, you and you alone get to decide where that line is, and how you apply it. Apply one standard for one author, and a different one for another? Okay! I’m sure you have your reasons, and your reasons can just be “because I feel like it.” Just like in real life, you might put up with more bullshit from one person than another, for reasons that are personal to you.
Just more things to chew on.
Addendum: Neil Gaiman also touched on some of this topic (more specifically, the commingling of author and work, and people making assumptions about the author based on characters in their book), and makes a point I wanted to note:
Well, unless you are going to only write stories in which nice things happen to nice people, you are going to write stories in which people who do not believe what you believe show up, just like they do in the world. And in which bad things happen, just as they do in the world. And that’s hard.
And if you are going to write awful people, you are going to have to put yourself into their shoes and into their head, just as you do when you write the ones who believe what you believe. Which is also hard.
Remember to forgive yourself, and to forgive others. It’s too easy to be outraged these days, so much harder to change things, to reach out, to understand.
Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin.
Meet new people and talk to them. Make new things and show them to people who might enjoy them.
Hug too much. Smile too much. And, when you can, love.
And sometimes that’s hugely painful or difficult, especially when we’ve been socialized to believe that who we are, deep down, is somehow immoral and incorrect. Because the first thing you have to figure out is who you are. And what you want. And that it’s all right for you to want and be those things, even if somebody else told you it was wrong. Even if it’s risky. Even if your family might not understand. (Of course, it’s also risky because it might involve important relationships changing drastically, giving up things that are precious to you, and re-assessing your investments or renegotiating your life path.)
That can be a tremendously painful process, this letting go of what you thought you ought to be, what you were invested in being–and just being what you are. Feeling your feelings, Writing your words. Making your art, which involves telling your truths.
I wish I had time to pause. It may be the one real regret about life that I have — there’s always one more thing, or five more things, that need to be tended, to keep the wolf from the door, to keep the roof from falling in. I have silent, solitary winters, like this one, but I don’t get to pause.
But what is highly prized in our industry is productivity, in whatever form it takes.
“Hey, I refactored some of our mixins to be more efficient and made sure they are used properly site-wide.”
“Good morning, I looked over a lot of the copy around the site and have some ideas on what we can change to make it more clear and cohesive.”
“This afternoon I closed out a couple of long-standing bugs that have been bothering me.”
Any place I’ve ever worked, any of these things would have been applauded. Especially if they relate to the current team/project at hand. That’s what productivity is.
That’s too bad, since you are being productive anyway. You’re following your mood.
While I doubt that my own Twitter and Facebook experiences were/are general, I have periods of fascination with the way social media systems eventually failed me. I keep trying to look ahead to the near-future of digital social connection (without separating it out into an other thing from general social connection, even while I develop the creeping feeling that digital duality may not be a thing in cities but may be in sleepy seaside towns) — and I wonder if attempts at inclusion by algorithm aren’t just locking people in soundproofed boxes.
These are all part-formed thoughts I’m working through, but it strikes me this morning that Twitter going algo would break a (perhaps unspoken) promise made in an earlier age of the internet: that, like FB, it would become a heavily managed means of communication, with arcane rules of entry, that would have its own opinions on whether you get to speak or listen. Warren Ellis, The Silence of the Algorithm