Do social media make us … better people?



I wore it around Facebook not so long ago, working the opposite of my own job, when I came to a stranger’s post, visible through a university friend who was not in touch. It started with the word “Warning”. My restrained movement of myself reacts to such warnings as the teenagers in the film react to the “DANGER” signs on the rusty chain link fence. I tossed my bike, turned my baseball cap back, and entered the abandoned mine.

“Warning,” the stranger wrote. “This post could be a trigger for a community trying to conceive / abort.” I don’t belong to any community and as I clicked reading the whole story, I felt an uneasy pulse of sympathy on social media – partly kindness, partly gossip.

But at the bottom of the mining shaft, it turned out, was a surprise party with cakes and balloons. My stranger had a child, after much difficulty. I moved my face of sympathy to my face for congratulations, though they were both really the same skater faces, greedy and empty at the same time. They had the wrong foot on me and no one invited me to the party.

I’ve been watching online alerts for a while now. I even check the little red flags Netflix puts at the entrance of each performance. (“Rough behavior” is my favorite.) The stranger’s announcement of the pregnancy was the first time I had seen a warning against someone’s happy ending. On social networks, we inevitably fall into other people’s days. We set off fireworks at funerals and ask funeral visitors to like our fireworks. But the stranger completely warned about how we live today in each other’s pockets and, in continuation, in the faces of others. It seemed extremely unusually tactful to me.

I am reminded of an old story Betty White is talking about her late friend Grant Tinker, who visited her one afternoon in 1981 after hearing that her husband had died. Tinker just came from a meeting where he learned he would be the new president and CEO of NBC. White recalls not mentioning this life-changing change once during his visit. “I never forgot that,” White says. “It’s a classy friend.”

Personally, we still know how to be classy friends. But the class is tricky on social media. No one can be expected to read a room when it is the size of a planet. So, as a proxy for personal classicism, we have warnings and disclaimers. We rely heavily on giving up the sentences: “Of course …” Temporary appeals come with acknowledgments of one’s general prosperity. A friend admitted to me, “Sometimes I feel like I’m getting out of existence.”

Even algorithms are beginning to recognize the importance of clock. My online supermarket recently asked me, an orphan of 40, if I wanted to stop receiving emails about Mother’s Day offers. Earlier this year, Twitter threw out the function which encourages people to reconsider a potentially harmful or offensive response before submitting it. These “instructions,” as the company calls them, rely on a text parser, and include a feedback option: “Did we misunderstand this?”

“Did I misunderstand this?” it could be an automated caption at the bottom of everything we publish. Despite all the accusations of selfishness against the so – called selfie generation, the dominant Freudian element in the digital age is undoubtedly the superego – that disciplining force in each of us that modulates its behavior in accordance with social norms. Our superego is desperate to make things right. Queries on Twitter outsourcing superego, a small warning voice in our heads externalized as part of the code.


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