I admit it. I’m a Luddite. Every time the editing system or the layout system gets upgraded here at The Telegram I wander around like a nasty old man staring at his television and wondering whatever happened to the channel-changing knob. New systems? I always want the old ones back. New computers? I miss the old keyboards.
It wears off eventually, but usually only when the new becomes the new old.
By then, it’s being changed, and I get grumpy all over again.
So keep that grain of salt in mind as I rant a bit about social media. (Along with the fact that the cellphone I carry is aged enough that, in order to do something as simple as texting, I have to push buttons two, three or four times to get a single letter — and that for months, I couldn’t find the space key, so I just put zeros between every word.)
Facebook is a lovely thing, if you want to see how much better off and happier everyone else is than yourself.
It’s like going to the grocery store and realizing that everyone else there is cheerful and holding hands, while at the same time realizing that your package of chicken is drooling juice down the front of your jacket. If you’re the least bit discouraged about your job/your life/the weather/the cat vomiting, signing on to the great Facebook chatterbox is like pushing happy knitting needles into your eyes.
Everyone is always travelling to wilder places than you, or else they’re posting pictures of their experiences in those places.
It’s guaranteed that someone will post a particular success almost every single day amongst your Facebook friends, meaning you’ll be conditioned, like Pavlov’s dog, to expect rapid and regular successes of your own.
When they do not come, each passing success will point that out to you, even if it’s a successful shopping trip to find new mittens.
You will realize you’ve never been successful at mittens, and probably never will be. You will feel like plunging your bare hands into a snowbank to demonstrate your permanent mitten incompetence.
Now, every now and then, someone will post truly miserable Facebook thoughts about their lot in life — you would think that would cheer you up. It does not.
In fact, it usually makes you feel you’re such a miserable case that even your friends are miserable.
And, oh look, Lisa’s won the Nobel Prize for Medicine. Again. You can post in reply that you finally made a pan of French fries in the oven without setting off the smoke detector. Then you find out that Kevin’s patented and sold a new smoke detector, and is heading to Fiji for a vacation on the proceeds. You get my point.
Then, there’s Tumblr. Tumblr: it’s like web log, a blog, but without the work: you find people who gather exciting fun, different things — photographs and art and such — and funnel them through your own likeminded website.
You are the keeper of the cool — but everyone else is actually having interesting fun.
You, however, have a computer. And a Tumblr site. Hooray. Done right, it can be bizarre enough to be your own personal Barnum and Bailey sideshow — but watching freaks will eventually make you freakish, too.
You will discover this when you shave one side of your head to put your own mug up there on your Tumblr.
Pinterest, Instagram — they’re all the same idea. They are fundamentally technology to show you how much brighter, more original and skilled everyone else in the universe is than you.
And I’ve saved the best for last. Twitter.
Now, here at The Telegram, we have plenty of twitterati. It is a part of the new media (yes, that makes me “old media”), a kind of interactive space on the web where everyone — including reporters and editors — gets to put up instant news or analysis in 140-character bursts. “New provincial Minister of Cheese appointed — Headley Curd.” “Curd? No whey! Wasn’t Steve Kent cheesey enough yet?” You get the drift.
One thing you will discover quickly perusing Tweets is that the 140-character length is perfect for two things: either complaining or being deliberately insulting.
Often, it is the social media equivalent of a slap fight: nobody really lands anything telling, but there’s lots of grunting and noisy back-and-forth.
Think about this for a moment: the first sentence of the last paragraph is exactly 140 characters — just 25 words. (And that’s not even counting spaces.)
When’s the last time you told an effective story in fewer than 25 words?
How about a joke?
In other words, lots of active temporary fun, but with the half-life of Darmstadtium and shallower than a kiddie pool.
In conclusion: social media.
It’s lots of new ways to feel bad about ourselves and our skills, while being entertained by the 140-character equivalent of whack-a-mole.
Told you I wasn’t an early adapter.
(Darmstadtium? A synthetic element, numbering 110 on the periodic table, that decays in a fraction of a thousandth of a second. Half-life? Zip.)
Russell Wangersky is the editorial
page editor of The Telegram.
He can be reached by email at email@example.com.