“The internet has changed everything!” -Everyone about everything.
As humans, our emotional responses to the world around us develop long before we have any mastery of language. It’s no surprise that when humans experience the extremes of emotion there is usually a corresponding decrease articulation. We laugh, we cry, we use violence, we do a silly dance but we have all had a moment where words fail us. Emotionality, no matter how extreme or illogical, is not evidence of a lack of a logical cause and effect process but rather a sudden inability to convey that. When we’re with someone face-to-face we can see that. We can put down the sudden need for words and just join in on inarticulate communication with a hug, a high five, a kiss, or return fire because we can see clearly before our very eyes that although emotion is has taken the center stage it wasn’t purely arbitrary. This is known as compassion.
Technology, on the hand, relies on clear articulation with a tiny margin of error as anyone who has stared at a programming language on a desperate hunt for the single character mistake that has rendered the entire attempt useless. Computers are not as far removed from humanity as we might think because its system of organization is modeled after our own brains. Unlike the human computer, the brain possesses the unparalleled ability to fill in a gap of knowledge with other pre-existing data. We do this automatically unless there is no pre-existing data to explain what has happened in which case we experience frustration.
Humans have never had the ability to communicate with other human beings the way that we do today. For the overwhelming majority of humanity we’ve actually been pretty limited. The first individuals to ever inscribe a thought in a language of some kind on parchment or stone undoubtedly run into troubles for their efforts. There were too few people who could even begin to understand it and the actual scribbles that one could use were incredibly limited. Technology is fantastic but there is a learning curve for its adaptation. In the past, humans had a very long time in between technological innovations. Today it feels nearly impossible to keep up with every single one of them and not everyone is using the same type of technology with the same level of comprehension but we are all using it simultaneously.
Twitter has made so many parts of my life infinitely easier. I have access to a constant river of information and as an information junkie I LOVE this. I love getting news reports from all over the world. I love seeing who is retweeting the same link. I love being constantly inundated with all of this data because it forces me to put my brain to work. I’m a nerd and I am infinitely fascinated by information systems and Twitter is a fantastic way to analyze a veritable universe of systems. We can track the passage of ideas in a way never before possible.
Well, in theory we’re tracking ideas and to lesser or greater extremes we’re junkies for them. Let’s call ideas ‘heroin’ for this example. Pure heroin is often described as unadulterated bliss by users and pure heroin does very little acute damage to the body. There is always a risk of overdose and managing your right dose is a tricky thing because your dose changes in relation to your relative use. When I first logged onto the world wide web with a baud modem it took forever for even a single picture to load but that was exciting. Today I get frustrated if it takes longer than a few seconds for an entire video to play on my computer. The biggest problem that heroin users face is not the presence of the heroin, per se, but the presence of all the shit that gets put into it. No one really has access to pure heroin, they’re using what we call “black tar” or at best “brown sugar.” It isn’t the heroin itself that destroys veins and creates painful abscesses and track marks; it’s the needle itself scarring the tissue mixed with the huge number of caustic additives. Heroin in a slightly different form is known as morphine or Vicodin or any other opiate/opioid and it has very legitimate medical uses.
In other words, Twitter would be utterly fantastic if it weren’t for the fact that not one single person is every really accessing pure ideas on Twitter. Most of the time we are creating and receiving “black tar ideas.” We put in all kinds of additives that create major problems and distractions. We’re trying to reduce something bigger than language itself into only 140 characters and we have problems as a result but these problems for the most part do not outweigh our need.
Twitter is portable and immediate. It’s a soap box to share anything with an unlimited number of people. It’s an indelible tool for activism and revolution. It’s a message in a bottle that can double as an intellectual Molotov cocktail. Hacktivism and digital activism are now firmly embedded as a legitimate way to get something done. Despite the fact that we may complain about individual brands of social media, we do know one thing: it works.
In the days before the technology, we only saw celebrities when they were consciously producing media for us. Instant technology and social media platforms have pulled the rug out of the notion that you are in any real control of your image whatsoever even with the very best public relations team that money can buy. People feel entitledto images of celebrities in private spaces (if they wanted privacy they never should have tried to chase their dreams and become successful, right?) and the more images there are the greater that entitlement becomes. We say things to public figures that we would never say to someone we considered to be another human being on this planet.
To clarify, I’m not opening a charity for rich celebrities any time soon. I’m just pointing out that human beings all have the expectation of being received as human beings and when we aren’t it makes us feel anxious (to say the least). Some people are marginalized literally to their graves. Other people are marginalized by the fact that they can’t escape the flashbulbs or the person in the corner recording them. Mainstream celebrities are paranoid about that kind of thing and for good reason. A lot of the strange tics we see in “celebrities gone crazy” are desperate attempts to return to some kind of sanity where worrying that the cashier at the coffee shop is going to run to the tabloids to tell them all about the fact that you used a credit card for a $3 purchase as if that indicates that you were a deliberate asshole rather than someone who needed coffee before they got to the ATM. We use constant surveillance as a way to torture people because it works.
Celebrity is an invented concept and one that does not come with a handbook as all-around awesome intellectual and humorist Stephen Fry discovered in 2009 on Twitter during what was deemed “Frygate.” Here are some of the screen caps of what happened:
This is hardly a call for someone’s death and it’s just another person on Twitter sharing their opinion like the rest of us. Rather than being received by Stephen Fry (in public persona mode) it was heard by Stephen Fry, the person. Like any other person he had the capacity to feel hurt by a statement that was clearly not intended to cause a breakdown in another person. It anything, @brumplum probably forgot that he was addressing his comment to a person rather than a public persona and moreover he probably did not expect to be heard or noticed. Well, he was.
- Screen capture of Stephen Fry’s reply
Stephen Fry has his own personal context and life. He has spoken openly about his mental health struggles. Stress alone is enough to derail you from your own brand of logical thinking and his health has the potential to exaggerate that. He took a minor criticism as evidence that no one liked him tweeting and that he should abandon the attempt. Thing of it is, a lot of people LOVE his tweets and anyone who created enough harm to him that he might discontinue entertaining people in this fashion and it was received by his followers as a declaration of war without any real prompting or request.
Whenever we make shit up and think it’s real, the shit will hit the fan and it did. Stephen Fry, understandably, felt hurt. He used the communication device at his fingertips to express that pain which always seems perfectly rational at the time. In his pain, he forgot just how many people really listen to every single thing that he says and that at the end of the day people really do like him and don’t want to see him experience that pain. Forgetting that the person who made the initial criticism was also another human being with feelings, the hordes decided to defend Stephen Fry viciously. This is what is known as blowing things out of proportion and the maelstrom that just one tweet created is a fascinating innovation of our times.
Ultimately, Stephen Fry decided to stay on Twitter for the very same reasons that he kept writing, that he kept speaking, that he kept telling us what was funny. To say that he is a weak person is so ridiculous it’s laughable. We have clearly objective and factual evidence that indicates that he’s the kind of guy who gets hurt sometimes and then keeps on going. Emerging from the sadness that sometimes catches up with us all, he realized that things had gotten quite out of hand and used his Twitter consciously to try to set things back in place. Public figures do have to use Twitter differently because of the insane fixation that people develop on media sanctioned celebrities. Although we claim that we want to know the real person inside the celebrity shell we are not prepared to the consequences of that knowledge.
As a whole, we are rarely prepared to acknowledge the humanity of the people around us or our own personal power.
I write this because I’m re-thinking the way that I use Twitter. I say this because I’ve accidentally hurt people by saying something as simple as “what the fuck?” because I thought I was conveying a mixture of confusion and frustration and they thought that it was a hostile attack. I say, “what the fuck?” roughly 1 million times a day. I say it to inanimate objects, I say it to the media, I say it to friends in a good natured way all the time but on Twitter that phrase is mostly useless. I absolutely have the right to say “what the fuck?” as many times as I want on Twitter but what is it actually getting me? I know that I rarely, if ever, use “what the fuck?” in anger. I feel angry when I have an idea of what is going on I use “what the fuck?” when I don’t. It doesn’t matter how well I know what I mean. It matters how well the people around me know.
I’m still acclimating to my technology. Sometimes I’m not even sure I can ever acclimate to any of it. I do know that it is my goal to mean what I say and sometimes that just doesn’t happen on Twitter even though I think it’s a goddamn amazing tool that I’m grateful to have in my life. Sometimes I lack humility before the things that we have created. I’ve had times on Twitter where I was at the center of a maelstrom of misinterpretation and the only thing that saved me was my relatively low Twitter account. As more of you add me to your Twitter feeds the more conscious I become of the fact that one misfired comment can get out of control in just a few hours. I’m learning slowly how to be distinguish between self-censorship and self-awareness. The punishment should fit the crime and the message should fit the medium.
I’m still going to fuck it up from time to time and I’m counting on you to let me know when. I do put all of my available resources into hearing what it is you’re trying to tell me. Like any other human I sometimes find that all of my available resources have been directed elsewhere like my fucking coffee bean grinder that wouldn’t grind my coffee beans leaving me without coffee at all. Learn from my mistakes: coffee first, twitter later.