Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ignoring Social Media This Thanksgiving

Past Thanksgivings

Three years ago I wrote a post describing how I used social media during my 2008 Thanksgiving dinner (mostly to keep my guests pacified in my tiny house while I considered cooking a turkey with a pencil torch). To my family it was novel to watch people across the country post their meals, perhaps in stark contrast to what I was feeding them.

I posted again about Thanksgiving and social media in 2010, this time discussing how people were getting help with their holiday plans online and how social media was far noisier than it was two years prior.

Last year when I posted about Thanksgiving, I included the #Turkey911 hashtag and talked about what a terrible idea it would be to answer the call from the web to upgrade your parents' browser. I also noticed even more noise on all the social media outlets, including from my own friends who had derided me for my food photos from prior years.

This Thanksgiving

This year as Thanksgiving approaches I realize there are far more people using social media than there were back in 2008 when I first started posting my holiday photos.

In 2008, Twitter had about 6.0 million users. As of March 2012, Twitter is up to 140 million users. In 2008, Facebook was at 100 million users and as of last month has now hit 1 billion users worldwide. Other social media outlets have come and gone, but these two demonstrate the overall penetration social media has into everybody's life.

That also helps explain why there is so much more noise online. Whereas in 2008 many users were sharing with smaller audiences, not as vocal, and spam and advertising wasn't a big deal, in 2012 it feels like everyone wants to share everything while I am also constantly being assaulted with social spam.

Two pieces I read in the last few days stood out to me as I was thinking about the coming holiday and social media.

The Quiet Ones

Over at The New York Times is an opinion piece titled, "The Quiet Ones." The author tells a story of riding in Amtrak's Quiet Car, where passengers are expected to be as close to silent as possible. In it the author makes the following observation:

In a 2006 interview David Foster Wallace said, it seems significant that we don't want things to be quiet, ever, anymore. Stores and restaurants have their ubiquitous Muzak or satellite radio; bars have anywhere between 1 and 17 TVs blaring Fox and soccer; ads and 30-second news cycles play on screens in cabs, elevators and restrooms. […]

People are louder, too. They complain at length and in detail about their divorces or gallbladders a foot away from you in restaurants. […] People practice rap lyrics on the bus or the subway, barking doggerel along with their iPods as though they were alone in the shower.

Mobile Vs. Social

Yesterday I read a blog post, "Mobile Vs. Social." In it the author discusses how people essentially need this constant input and interaction, that we are giving up or stifling real human interaction for the false human interaction of social media (or even SMS or email). He suggests just looking around in public to see it in action:

Just look at parties, lunches or any other grown-up interaction scene you can think of. People talk for a while, and then they just can't help themselves looking at their phones. Just for a second. Just needing that latest "fix."

My Point

I have a suggestion for all of us for Thanksgiving this year, one I will try to follow myself (which won't be easy) — turn off your phone.

I have no illusions about how trying Thanksgiving can be for many and how compelling it will be to escape to the cultivated social constructs in your phone. This tweet may sum it up nicely:

So let's give it a shot. Consider it good practice for the coming bandwidth / electricity / zombie apocalypse.

If you need a little convincing, see if this TED video from Sherry Turkle ("Connected, but Alone?") does it:

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