No one is immune to 2020: Staying human online
Posted by Kim Smith mccroryk0613
For the most part, I consider myself resilient despite the political, social, and economic chaos that is 2020. I’m not jaded. I am optimistic. I still believe in community.
Well, as it turns out, I may have been kidding myself.
I just read the first 3 chapters of Howard Rheingold’s book Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (2014). The idealistic way in which Rheingold describes online interactions is arguably NOT aligned with what I see post-2016. He talks of a ‘culture of participation,’ fostered by online communities working toward knowledge sharing and critical thinking. He speaks of digital knowledge sharing as a wonderous, limitless add-on to what and how we learn in real life, and how much we all gain by taking part. “Knowing how to blog, tweet, wiki, innovate, program, and/or organize online can lead to political, cultural, and economic value” (111). Even though I am a student, scholastic, reliable content is not the majority of what I encounter when I’m online. I see throngs of anonymous contributors shitposting, sharing unsubstantiated “articles” and starting arguments in comment sections. Rheingold, forging ahead, gushes about our potential: “web culture has made it clear that if it is easy and inexpensive enough to contribute to cooperative enterprises, many people will choose to do so for a variety of reasons, including reputation, altruism, curiosity, learning, a sense of reciprocating value to a community that provides value, as part of a game, and contributing something for public use that you had to do for your own purposes anyway” (112). Rheingold doesn’t even use the words ‘toxic’ and ‘trolls’ until after page 100! I, on the other hand, see people looking to stir the pot, using language not said aloud in talking to both their social circles and complete strangers. My response to his reading got me thinking about my role and my responsibilities as an online presence overall.
First, I need to be more optimistic and proactive – find and support online education communities like schools, Google Scholar, reliable news outlets, and constructive social media content. I KNOW there’s good stuff out there. I know I don’t just have to put on blinders and block everyone with whom I disagree on social media; I can be equally discerning and protective of what I encounter, and I should not expect the impossible from where I normally surf. I can find blogs, subreddits, and pages that are looking to inform, not upset. I can turn my time online into a more productive activity. I can get on board with Rheingold’s ideas.
One place to start might be what Chris Anderson calls “The Long Tail” in his 2004 article of the same name. For Anderson, the long tail is what exists outside of the most popular culture; “the millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream” (1). Finding your own healthy place online can take some digging, as what we’re fed isn’t always what we need. “We equate mass market with quality and demand, when in fact it often just represents familiarity, savvy advertising, and broad if somewhat shallow appeal” (10). Anderson writes about how markets continually change with the ubiquity of availability and potential revenue online, where products are unconstrained by the size and cost of physical space. This helps us to find what we should be consuming on a more personal level and engaging with others that also care enough to contribute to that community. We can choose a new jumping off point. “Great long tail businesses can then guide consumers further afield by following the contours of their likes and dislikes, easing their exploration of the unknown” (24). Before long, it’s possible to change your entire feed.
I want to be informed and rational (and maybe even a little happy?) when I’m online. I want to support others looking to do the same. Creating a new experience might be as easy as clearing my cache, cookies, and search history and starting from a healthier point, even if that point is obscure. Using an incognito window to indulge in guilty pleasures and gossip can satisfy whatever brought me there while maintaining accountability for what I see most often.
About Kim Smith email@example.com Grad School: Technical and Professional Communications Madison, WI
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