This whole facebook, or indeed any other equivalent social networks, integrity debate, I was sitting here thinking about that just now as I was spreading some more political propaganda through my news feed. And I know all about the problems with having your mother or your boss seeing the same things your friends see about you, we all do, so let’s try turning it around a bit, just for the sake of examination. Let’s look at it from a different angle. Let’s forget about the whole “stalking your current or former partners” parts, and look at the more subversive aspects of it and how it could potentially change the whole social game as we know it. Yeah, I said the whole though process got kicked into motion by posting political propaganda, didn’t I?
I’m a very private person. I don’t really like people to know all that much about what I do or where I am and hence I rarely give away information on that on facebook or in real life for that matter. Some people like to inform everyone about where they are, what they are doing and what they had for breakfast, I’m not one of those people. But thanks to facebook I now have a very clear visibility on who of my friends actually do belong to that group of people. Is this a good or a bad thing? I’m not sure. But if a friend of mine posts a blatantly sexist status update it is indeed a good thing because then I can delete that person from my friends list. The same way people can do the exact same thing to me if they are offended by my political propaganda. For instance when I post things from this very blog.
Yes, we do get to know a lot more about our friends these days. And as uncomfortable as that sometimes makes me, I don’t necessarily think it’s bad thing. Because sure, we have to exercise a little bit of censorship, or rather judgement, when we post things, but I don’t actually think it’s uncomfortable or bad if people know my political views, after all they are my views and I should consequently stand behind them, we all should. We should stand behind who we are. Even to our boss or indeed our mothers. I think it’s time to stop the whole acting and trying to fit in to the norm thing, because if we could finally deal with the reality of the fact that we as humans are pretty multifaceted, this world would be so much better and life would be so much more interesting. You can actually be a hugely successful business person and still go to techno clubs on the weekend, and you can actually be on a roll in academia and still live the full gay lifestyle with clubbing and the works and you can be a great parent without having a so-called “organized life” with a 9 to five job. Theoretically you can even be pro the Occupy Wall Street movement and still work in a bank. Because we are in fact a pretty diverse species, and we are capable of having more than one side to our personality. In fact we do. All of us. And I’m not so sure it’s really doing us that much good to keep them as separate as we do. The question is if that isn’t just providing a great growing ground for prejudice. Because if you are a successful business person and your boss can’t see that your partying on the weekend isn’t affecting your work performance and should therefore be of no concern to him, he probably shouldn’t be in that job. The worst thing that could happen is that he has to question his own prejudices if he knows about your extracurricular activities. And if you’re scared you might lose your job because of your political opinion, well then maybe you should ask yourself whether you actually even want to keep that job. And yes, we all need food on the table, but we also need a spine. And if more of us put more focus on maintaining our status as vertebrae this world would probably be a lot nicer to live in.
And that’s where the subversive aspect of social media like facebook really kicks in. Because apart from the stalking and image-building potential with all the recipes and workout reports, it can also work as an exterminator of prejudice and provide impulses to reevaluate an opinion. If I for instance post a link to a documentary about the use of medical marijuana that’s a statement that I find this an issue worth actually thinking about, and those who watch it will probably figure out that I’m actually pro medical marijuana. That’s pretty controversial in some circles, in others not. I have friends in both camps. So on the one hand I might offend some of my friends by posting this, and some of them may now associate me with the various stereotypes and prejudices associated with this particular issue, some of them might even change their opinion about me because of that, but some might be able to go beyond the stereotype and realize that I don’t fit it and that their opinions might actually be based on prejudices and therefore might consequently be wrong which could then cause them to reevaluate these opinions and actually change their mind. In short, the propaganda might actually work. Or when I post one of my many links on gender equality, maybe someone will actually get it. Changing the word one step at a time. Which is essentially how it works. And I am fully and completely aware that I sound like a delirious idealist now, like some sort of 60s hippie who thinks it’s all peace love and understanding all the way which we by now of course know wasn’t really the outcome of the summer of love. But a more reasonable view on sexuality was. As well as a more relaxed type of fashion entering the world outside the privacy of our own homes. We also saw the youth culture that started with the Beatles grow roots and become it’s own entity. It may not have gone exactly according to plan, but the world did change. Things were set in motion and we are still feeling the repercussions.
Ideas. That’s how everything starts. And social media has made it a lot easier to share them. Sure there is the superficiality of it all, that it’s easier to just click ‘like’ than to actually do something. Question is if you would have really done something if you hadn’t had that ‘like’ option? I don’t really buy in to that idea that people use that type of behavior as an excuse to not do more, because stating your opinion is actually the first step in really doing something. If more people start saying that they think it’s bullshit that gay couples can’t get access to the same protective legislation surrounding how they have chosen to live, i.e. marriage, as straight couples, then that voice will get louder and more visible. The issue will get on the agenda and that’s how change happens, by actually naming the issues. Social change never comes without a proceeding debate or even fight. Women’s rights is a great example. None of this development happened without a fight. And only a couple of decades ago equal pay wasn’t even thinkable, today it is at least on the agenda. And the only reason this happened was through addressing the issue, or rather labeling it as actually being an issue. So if I post a link to a text about rape culture, maybe more people will see the issue and understand that it is indeed an issue, and some will share it through their profile and even more people will see it. Spreading the word, spreading the ideas. And we’ve actually seen exactly this happen recently. In fact so much that the need to look into the possibility for governments to “temporarily shut down social network platforms under special circumstances” has been expressed, and no, it wasn’t the former Egyptian president Mubarak or the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad who suggested that, it was David Cameron, prime minister in the UK.
But I think the subversive potential actually goes far beyond this, because not only can we use it as a way to spread our ideas and enforce change in society, we can use it to enforce change in ourselves. In fact I think that’s exactly what we are doing. In a lot of ways facebook has given me a better grip on a lot of my friends, obviously this is more true for the people who are more acquaintances than friends, but it actually applies even to the ones I actually know really well. Someone will ‘like’ something I posted that I didn’t even know they cared about. So apart from of the fact that I actually get a lot of new information about culture and politics through links posted by other people, I also get to know something about the people who are posting these links and commenting on the things I post and this new information about the individual actually forces me to rethink some of my own prejudices. I had no idea that I used to work with someone who’s also into Terence McKenna for instance. If had known that when we were still colleagues I think that would have changed something. For the better. Because there really is something to be said for having things in common. It creates bonds. But so does knowing more about people. To get to see the human being behind the professional mask.
We all have prejudices and I have heard it said that this is natural, that it’s a way for us get a grip on the world around us, to make life a bit more predictable, to be able to orient ourselves in it, but when these prejudices get confused with truths, which is more often the case than not, then we are truly in deep shit. Because when we start thinking that all muslims are terrorists and all the people who do drugs are losers, we are actually wrong. Really wrong. Dangerously wrong. And one way to rectify this is to start being a bit more open about who we actually are and what we believe in. Sure, there’s the other aspect of it, where governments or companies can use all this information we provide about ourselves as a means to control us or target us for personalized advertisement, and that is most certainly a real concern. However, a thing like facebook wouldn’t even be a force to reckon with if it wasn’t for the users, so if we as users make sure that we don’t let ourselves be taken for a ride and maintain our awareness the concern doesn’t have to turn into outright paranoia. Because there is a massive potential in the online social network. And yes, there is a clear integrity concern for the individual, but there’s also a whole political and financial world out there who got scared shitless about the Occupy Wall Street movement that’s brewing online and all over the world. The traditional media is hardly covering it, but social media is full of it. Spreading the ideas. That’s what it’s all about. Our ideas, not the ideas that we’re told we should have by corporations and governments.
We live in a society where we think that being professional is equivalent to being single-minded and bordering on non human. And not only is this insane, it’s also destructive, because being professional, in that understanding, is also hailed as the greatest quality a person can have. A society that leaves no room for complexity, for reality, is pretty much doomed. Failure is inevitable. We are humans, not machines. And if we can slowly start understanding that a person can have more than one side to their personality that would do us all good.