The technological structures of our Twitterstream, iPhone-ready, newsticker, push-notification culture have made “being in the loop” as natural a thing for us as breathing–and almost as important. These days, it’s seen as essential to know what’s going on in the world–what’s trending–and not only to know about it, but to comment on it. If something is being buzzed about or going viral, we must chime in: unleash a quick Facebook update, add a Tweet to the chorus, throw up a blog post with “Thoughts on ____” before anyone else can.
And it all must be done expediently, because to wait or be late to the conversation is to admit–heaven forbid–being somewhat out of the loop. You see this a lot when people post something on Twitter/Facebook with the caveat, “I know I’m late to the game on this, but…” Who cares if you’re late to the game? As if the quality of comment is less vital than its timeliness.
I’m troubled by the value we place on quickness in our culture. The rush to “join the conversation” doesn’t necessarily help the conversation. Frequently it hurts it. Sometimes our quickness perpetuates the spread of misinformation. When the urge is to comment first, research later, the conversation becomes scattershot and unreliable. It’s no wonder no one knows what to think about KONY2012. Before I even saw the video, there were already a million wildly contradictory opinions about it being circulated.
The thing with KONY2012, though, is that its very existence seemed to discourage reflection. It urged people to watch a 30-minute video and then ACT! Tweet to Justin Bieber! Share the video on Facebook! Buy a poster kit! The uncontrollable social media maelstrom that followed happened because Invisible Children played right into the unreflective “quickness culture,” which worked at getting the thing viral but arguably did not work in cultivating a trustworthy/reliable/non-reactionary conversation.
Meanwhile, the same “tweet first, think later” impulse that propelled KONY2012 to its “explode the Internet” status, ironically, is helping to spread the Jason Russell meltdown news (and all of its iffy allegations) across the same viral space. Which is a shame, but not surprising. This is how things go in the quickness culture.
Let me be the first to say that I’ve been complicit in this culture and have often felt the need to add my instant reaction to some buzzworthy news. But the KONY2012 phenomenon has got me thinking anew about the value of slowing down and relinquishing my need to be so in the loop and real-time conversant. When KONY2012 broke, part of me said “you must blog about this!” When I didn’t do that, I felt the urge to at least chime in with endorsements of other articles, sending one of those “This is the best thing I’ve read so far on ___” tweets. But ultimately I came to see that perhaps the best thing to do is just to stay silent, live my life, let the dust settle and then comment (or not) on it much later.
Not commenting instantly on something like KONY2012 means there’s blog traffic I won’t get that I could’ve gotten; there’s a few Twitter followers I might have gotten out of it. Oh well.
I desire to be more out of the loop. I want to go a day without knowing what the Twitterverse is talking about. I want to let trending topics come and go without ever knowing they happened. I want to be like Marilyn Hagerty, who didn’t know (or care) that for the rest of the world, Olive Garden was “old news.” I don’t want to care about something just because it’s hot right now and everyone is talking about it; I want to care about something because it is interesting, important, worth thinking about. I don’t want to blog, tweet, or talk about things I haven’t mulled over or wrestled with first. I want to resist the idol of quick-to-the-draw commentary.
And while I’m at it, I want to focus more on my own challenges: the right-in-front-of-me conversation, the local issues, the everyday battles–rather than injecting myself into the global so urgently and ignorantly. Sure, I want to care for the world. It’s important to know what’s going on. But it shouldn’t take precedence over being present in my own life, and being attentive to the needs of my own community. I’d rather be out of the loop than disengaged from the world right in front of me; though I suspect (and hope) there’s a way we can balance both: being plugged in to there and present here, and thoughtful in each sphere.