December 18th, 2012

Social Media Helps Me Live in the World

“Live in your world!” is something one my high-school teachers–the music teacher, oddly enough–used to exhort us. What she meant was that to truly inhabit the world, you need to know and at least attempt to understand it. She would use this sentence when we seemed too grossly ignorant of current events–the events of our world.

At the time, I could nod sagely, because I was a pretty well-informed kid. Of course, no one actually lives in the world–we all live in our houses, and my parents’ house was (and is) one of information. While I lived there, I absorbed news because it played on the radio and television several times a day and there were always newspapers and magazines underfoot, sometimes literally. There were also books and books and books, and usually someone available to explain whatever I didn’t understand.

Then I moved out on my own, and I discovered a key way I am not like my parents–I feel no drive to be well-informed. If you tell me things, I’ll take them in and even take an interest, but left to my own devices I am comfortable in my happy bubble of friends and work and fictional characters. After I moved out, my parents would phone me and attempt to talk about current events, and find me weeks out of date–often these calls were actually my only source of news.

What have we learned here? That I’m lazy, inane, not that bright? I prefer to say passive–I’ll learn what someone cares to teach me. Which is what makes social media kind of great. On the internet, on my own, I’ll look up book reviews and personal blogs and recipes and the life stories of people I knew in high school. But I read the newsfeeds on Twitter and Facebook, at least sometimes. And I learn stuff I didn’t know I needed to know. I follow links to actual newspapers and I read the articles. It’s easy to ignore the world when you don’t know what you’re missing; it’s harder when you have to try to ignore it.

I went on Twitter last Friday to post some inane complaint, which is mainly what I post on Twitter. I started reading my newsfeed and found a dozen comments on gun control in the US. I scrolled backwards until I found a name–“Newtown”–and then I googled that and read the news articles. It was miserable reading, of course, but utterly necessary if you want to be a human being living in the world today in a human way. Really, how could a real person ever choose to ignore that kind of tragedy?

Social media brings the tough parts closer, within reach even for someone like me, who often chooses to opt out of the tough parts. It’s not a perfect system (ie., Farmville) but in no small way, social media does help me be a grownup, living in the world.

4 Responses to “Social Media Helps Me Live in the World”

  • Carmen Faye Mathes says:

    I’ve JUST been thinking about passiveness, as a kind of medium for meaning-making, and your post is interesting to me because you make social media a platform that “cares to teach you” in a way that fits an innately passive attitude towards knowledge gathering. It’s the “social” part, I guess, that can have the capacity to “care” enough to want to teach… and it speaks well of your particular online community that teaching, rather than entertaining or shocking, is your verb of choice.

    I’m a scholar of the Romantic era, so of course I have an historical lens through which I like to focus on things, and so, some thoughts on passivity…

    William Wordsworth:

    The eye it cannot chuse but see,
    We cannot bid the ear be still;
    Our bodies feel, where’er they be,
    Against, or with our will.

    Nor less I deem that there are powers,
    Which of themselves our minds impress,
    That we can feed this mind of ours,
    In a wise passiveness.

    and Keats…

    19 February 1818: in a letter: “Let us not therefore go hurrying about and collecting honey, bee-like buzzing here and there impatiently from a knowledge of what is to be aimed at; but let us open our leaves like a flower and be passive and receptive.”

    xoCarmen Faye


  • Rebecca says:

    Hi Carmen Faye,

    I think this is one of the best comments I’ve ever seen on a blog–thank you for your insights, and the quotations.

    Sometimes I take it too far, but I definitely believe a certain amount of passiveness is necessary to learn. If I only go in search of the knowledge I want, will I ever really learn anything truly different than what I already think.

    WW is right about the wise passiveness–I guess for me that means choosing smart people to follow on twitter!!

    Best,
    RR


  • saleema says:

    Oh gosh, if it wasn’t for Twitter, I probably wouldn’t know any news at all! At once point, I used to check CBC and the Globe and Mail regularly, but the websites became too irritating for daily use.

    I love the lines quoted by the commenter above, and I agree on this take on social media. It might not be exactly IN the world, but it’s reporting from the front lines of that world, at any rate.


  • Rebecca says:

    “The front lines of the world”–I like that!!


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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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