Drinking the Social Media Kool-Aid October 29, 2010Posted by therealgirlsguide in Blog, events, new media, news, social media, speaking, Web Series.
Tags: #140 Conf, #scriptchat, 140 Character Conference, anyone but me, Carmen Elena Mitchell, Dan Savage, Debra Eckerling, ellen degeneres, gay, Ilene Chaiken, It gets better, Jeff Pulver, joel burns, Lesbian, LGBT, obama, Smokey the Bear, Social Media, Susan Miller, teen suicide, The Trever Project, Tim Kring, twitter, web series, WriteOnOnline, Zac Sanford
Before the launch of Real Girls back in February, Twitter was something I knew relatively little about. Like most “non-users” I regarded it with skepticism, unknowingly bandying about anti-social-media clichés like “do I really want to know every time your dog takes a dump” and “it sounds like a big a waste of time.”
But there was a moment last week when I realized how far out I had ventured into the Twitta-sphere. I was talking to my dad on the phone and heard him repeat some of these now-familiar phrases, which then led to a conversation about invasion of privacy, the culture of self-indulgence and exhibitionism (whadda you want? He’s an English professor, that’s just the way we talk…), and I found myself saying ”yeah, there’s an aspect of that, but there’s a LOT more to it.” And suddenly I realized I had become that person, the one who gives unpaid testimonials about the value of social networking and how it’s being used to “create community” and “level the playing field” and rambling on about hashtags, @replies, direct message and IRL encounters. If this had been a Skype call, I would have seen his eyes glaze over.
The subject came up because a couple of weeks ago I was asked to be on a panel representing at the “140 Character Conference” in Hollywood. So now (despite being a Luddite with an active AOL account and an uneasy relationship with a second hand iPod), I can pretend to be an authority on a tech-related subject. Cool! (And just for the record—and because he’ll probably read this—my Dad has a first-hand iPod and was happily Skyping long before I was).
The conference, created by Twitter seed investor Jeff Pulver, runs for two days in half a dozen cities and features panel discussions on the value and use of social media. The range of panelists is pretty impressive, from marketers to homeless advocates, to street performers, to aid workers in Haiti, to small businesses, to some of the biggest creative forces in Hollywood. I was invited to appear on a panel about “writing and community” along side moderator Debra Eckerling, creator of the writer resource site WriteOnOnline (who did an interview with me a few months ago), and Zac Sanford, creator of the popular #ScriptChat (a twitter based forum for screenwriters). The conference, as a whole, was a thrilling experience. It felt like something truly democratic was taking place. Finally, here was a forum where having a voice had nothing to do with money and prestige and everything with having something to say. Here was a forum where homeless bloggers were given the same respect as pop-culture icons.
For example, in the green room, waiting to go on stage, I ran into Tim Kring (creator of Heroes), Ilene Chaiken (creator of The L-Word)…and Smokey the Bear. Where else could this have possibly happened? (Read another interesting article about the strange menage of Real Girls, Smokey and Tim King HERE.)
And yes, I asked Smokey (recalling a frustrating encounter at Disneyland with Eeyore) if he—like his Disney brethren—was forbidden from actually speaking. He nodded his head “Yes” sadly (but TWEET he does…and yes, the rumors of my brief un-reciprocated twitter-flirtation in the week following the conference are true, but I digress).
So yes, in some respects I have drunk the Kool-Aid. And yet at the same time, I recognize that there’s a dark side to all of this too. One need only look at the recent suicides of gay teens attributed to “cyber-bullying” to see that there’s something else very troubling going on. Through our drunken consumption of social media we’ve carelessly laid open the doors to a world without privacy, a world without boundaries, and—most problematic—a world of self-conscious childhood, where every moment of one’s evolving vulnerable self is potentially captured, exposed and critiqued in front of millions. We’ve created Big Brother and he is US. And no one born before 1990 can truly appreciate what it feels like to grow up in that world.
But then at the same time consider the reaction to such acts, like activist/columnist Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” Project, which started in September as a response to Billy Lucas’ suicide (which has inspired everyone from Ellen DeGeneres to President Obama to create videos directed at LGBT youth letting them know that “it gets better”); and The Trevor Project, which provides 24/7 nationwide suicide prevention hotlines and support.
If you missed it please check out this video by Fort Worth city council member Joel Burns released on October 13th, which already has over 2 million hits.
Consider the NOH8 campaign.
Consider the countless on-line non-profit organizations that act as lifelines to teens in communities where there are no other resources.
Consider independent web series like Anyone But Me that have earned an enormous international audience though normalizing representations of LGBT teens.
Consider that before social media (BSM?!) many LGBT youths still took their own lives because of a lack of community, visibility and access to support.
Consider that in this brave new world the bully is often now exposed, and that there are consequences, whereas before most of this behavior went unreported and unpunished.
In the end social media is just an innovation, like TV, like radio…like the automobile even. And like those innovations it’s going to be regarded with skepticism. There will be people who refuse to utilize it and who claim that it’s impacting the culture in negative ways. And they’re right, it is. But it’s simultaneously changing it for the better. As with all advances in technology, we need to grow as a culture in order to learn how to use social media responsibly, and how to counter abuse so it does not go unchecked. We need to wear seat belts—or more importantly…we need to learn how to drive.
But in order to do that, we all—particularly those of us who are parents—need to be part of the conversation and at least take a sip of the Kool-aid. Right, Dad?
xo – Carmen