How I Use Social Media

It’s occurred to me that I’ve never taken advantage of the way many social media platforms allow for a toot or tweet to be pinned, such that it will always be the first thing anyone sees. If there’s anywhere I’d direct people by default, it would be my personal web site, since social media is where I usually just make throwaway comments about whatever the Current Thing is, whereas this site is the archive of the major thoughts I’ve had that I’ve polished over time.

And if I’m going to direct social media users to my web site, then why not specifically to a post about how I prefer to use social media? So meta!

The most important thing about my approach to social media is that I may occasionally take it seriously, but I don’t take it personally. I have no illusion that my comments there will change anyone’s mind about the major issues of the day; humans just don’t work like that. So when some stranger disagrees with me, that’s not something to get worked up about, because ultimately those people are just words on a screen. To me, the value is simply in entertainment, and to a lesser extent, as a low-stakes way of keeping my rhetorical axe sharp. 

In other words, while this may sound funny, I recognize going in that social media is, by and large, a waste of time. That doesn’t mean that I never encounter interesting people and ideas that make me think about things in different ways. It just means that when that does happen it’s a pleasant surprise, not the fulfillment of an expectation.

That leads me to the issue of blocking people. I’ve noticed that a lot of people seem to make it a point of pride that they don’t block people, and I don’t really understand that. If a person or account is decreasing my enjoyment of social media, I’ll block them quickly and without remorse. Social media is a dubious enough use of time as it is; there’s certainly no point in it at all if it’s not going to be fun.

Because I travel in libertarian-ish circles, I have the feeling that much of this feeling on the part of those people comes from the misconception currently popular on the cultural right that censorship is more broadly defined than just government suppression of speech. But freedom of expression does not include an entitlement to one’s choice of venue, and the freedom to speak doesn’t oblige anyone else to listen. If a song you didn’t like came on the radio, would you feel obligated not to change the station? Then why would you feel obligated to keep listening to some fool on the Internet you don’t even know in real life?

Something sort of related to this, at least on Twitter, is the trend I’ve seen of people setting their tweets so that only those people they follow or mentioned can reply. In keeping with what I just said, absolutely, they have every right to do this. But I find it so obnoxious that when I run into this I will instantly unfollow that person. It’s not social media if the conversation doesn’t flow in both directions, so if you don’t care what I have to say, I don’t care what you have to say.

As a final thought, just because I don’t take social media personally doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate those people I’ve encountered who have a lot to offer. In fact, I’ve often wished there were established ways of befriending in a meaningful way those people who are interesting even in the arm’s length environment of social media. So if you happen to think that I’m one of them, by all means, reach out!