Likes or GTFO

I don’t know how to make appropriate use of social media.

It is obviously useful for sharing quick updates about yourself to people with whom you do not have regular contact. As someone who loathes speaking on the phone, I do appreciate this feature. I have seen people use it to make idle conversation, seek advice and rally support in times of need. There is something comforting about the idea that you can scan through the people you know and see who is doing well and who might need help of some kind. Perhaps that is just the system admin in me though – I recognize that this type of interaction does not really foster deeper relationships.

It is also a marketing tool that eavesdrops on your every conversation in an effort to neatly categorize you into groups which are likely to buy certain products – effectively reducing you to a product as well. I appreciate this feature less.

Potentially, it could function as an open forum. A virtual Agora – a great churning pool of perspectives into which ideas are cast, to be tested against the logic and insights of others.

In practical application, it largely functions as a place to have every opinion validated. There appears to be some sort of injunction against challenging an idea once it has been presented, lest you be regarded as a bully. Why?

Are we really so insecure that we can’t hear dissenting voices without interpreting it as an attack? Are we such children that any correction must be viewed as abuse or censorship? It is distressing that even a question about the origin of someone’s opinion or the suggestion of alternative explanations must be met with the petulant whine of “You’re just trying to look smarter than me”, or dismissively waved away with the assertion “You just like to argue.”

In fairness, it is difficult to hear something that contradicts a foundational belief. Especially if it is a foundational belief that I just publicly declared in a semi-belligerent sassy tone. When I feel that foundation being undermined, re-evaluating my beliefs is not my first priority, keeping my identity from crumbling is. To this end, my defense mechanisms leap to action, shielding my wounded ego from further injury.

This is a problem that comes about whenever you communicate at all, and is exacerbated by the removal of different aspects of communication that we perhaps take for granted. Face to face, you have so much more than words to convey meaning and intent. You have tone of voice, posture, fidgeting, eye contact. Probably even subtler cues that we do not consciously process, such as scent or complexion. On the phone, you still have tone of voice, but you miss visual cues. Bare text gives nothing away that isn’t stated explicitly. It is a blank slate practically begging someone to imprint emphasis and inflection. If you are far enough removed from person speaking, you can construct an entire personality around a comment. You get to construct the “voice” speaking to you.

And that voice matters. I submit an example:

will_smith_00_web redneck_ws_quote

First picture – that is solid, inspirational advice. I hear it in a smooth baritone that exudes calm self-assurance. He is famous for his work. Successful. The way the image is put together lends a sense of focus as well. Black and white picture with clean text. No unnecessary colors or serifs distracting you from your goals. This is clearly someone with his shit together, and is probably a reliable source of advice.

Second picture – I hear it in a more nasal voice. I think I started truncating the endings of the words as I read it. The text looks like it might have actually been carved into the image with a knife. I just feel like his shit is somewhat less together. I anticipate less success in his future. I’m looking at his setup, the way he presents himself and all the Alabama in that photo, and I’m thinking I shouldn’t listen to his advice1.

The point is that the perceived voice changes assumptions made about the speaker, such as intent, motivation and authority. I can change the understood meaning behind the words based on the sort of person that I imagine the speaker to be. If I can hear an opposing view in the voice of someone who I perceive as ignorant, bitter or just trying to be arbitrarily “mean”, they can be dismissed. If I tell myself that an argument has not been presented in good faith, I may feel less obligation to consider its validity.

I have been mulling this over because I often run afoul of people’s sensibilities with respect to the rules of polemic engagement. I ask questions which seem to get interpreted as judgmental, disrespectful or mean. This is not to imply that I have never been guilty of acts of intentional twattery, I just try not to make it my opening gambit. Most of the time, I intend nothing like that. Most of the time, I am genuinely bewildered or curious. Occasionally I believe I have spotted a discrepancy in logic and would like to understand either my mistake or yours. Sometimes I will call immediate bullshit, but typically I go out of my way to challenge a statement respectfully.

Given that we are susceptible to such influence, you can tweak the presentation of ideas to elicit a more favorable reaction by using a “pre-configured” voice. You consider the tone you wish to convey. Find a person most people would associate with that tone. Overlay their image with text to force your audience to queue up the voice that you feel most appropriately communicates your attitude. Or (to draw inspiration from others) generate a typographical device that performs a similar function.

So what I need to do is frame contentious observations with the image of someone who does not elicit defensiveness. Someone sort of egoless and eminently well-meaning.



You claim membership in a religion which instructs you to model your own behavior after that of a man who preached love, charity, humility and compassionate understanding of human frailties. However, you have expressed views both political and personal that seem to run contrary to your stated guiding principles. Would you explain this contradiction?

You have pinned your identity on membership in a particular subculture as a protest of the rules and restrictions present in mainstream society. However, in doing so you reject anything that does not conform to that subculture. Does this not make you just as insular and judgmental as the society from which you sought to distance yourself?

You claim that a public contradiction of your publicly expressed views constitutes censorship – an infringement upon your freedom of speech. However, challenging an opinion is not synonymous with suppressing that opinion, and so cannot rightly be called censorship. In fact, the concept of ‘freedom of speech’ was established largely to ensure that dissenting opinions and criticism could be freely expressed. In light of this, does it not seem that an attempt to exempt yourself from criticism is simply an attempt to censor your critics?

1I do not intend to disparage the intellectual capabilities of your average redneck engineer. It’s more the foresight and planning that is lacking. I have seen a number of ad hoc wonders come out of rural workshops. I have also seen electrocutions, explosions, burns and finger loss come out of same.”
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