The Power of Social Media



A blog – a Web Log – what used to be a journal I kept on my shelf, is now an editorial for the entire world to see. Of late, social media is so much more than a buzz word, and has so much impact on our psyche, that I felt it was time to take a moment and reflect.

First I’ll state for the record – since I have not seen it elsewhere; This recent US Presidential Election will be remembered as the first time an election was won through the use of social media. In the same way that history talks of JFK edging out Nixon because of the famous television debate where Jack simply out-shined Tricky Dick. Camp Hillary was totally unprepared in the realm of social media for the onslaught of carefully directed information from the Trump camp.

I use the word information deliberately. News is information, songs are information, Facebook is information, so are novels, and magazines, and satellite radios. Information is not truth. Let me say that again – Information is not truth. When I hear a term like “fake news”, I have to ask myself – who determines what is truth, or fake. By nature, people can say anything. One often hears that a convicted murderer says he didn’t do it. One can say anything. Words have meaning only in the sense of how they are absorbed into the consciousness of the listener, the reader, the receiver. Words are not truth, words are symbols. Without going to Webster – I learned and have taken the time to understand and accept that truth is something that stands the test of time. Yet even this concept is tenuous when the average human lifespan is barely 100 years. A truth held up before us through any sort of media can certainly outlast a human century. Was the Civil War about slavery or was it about States’ Rights and self determination. Don’t take sides, or jump to conclusions because you think you know the truth. Do the research and understand what started it, what was used to enhance the cause, and what was written into the history books by the victors.

We live in a remarkable time where communication has become instantaneous, and often overwhelming. Herbert A Simon is quoted as saying “What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention…”. Social media, and its abundance of information is proving this day in and day out. Whether it is someone rear ending the car in front of them because they are Tweeting at a traffic light, or a student falling down the steps at school catching up on Facebook between classes. We are so overwhelmed by information from Facebook, Twitter, CNN, MSNBC, RT, InfoWars – pick any 1000 other sources – that our attention is decimated, so we short circuit mentally into our emotion based belief system, accepting facts based on learned behaviors, casting aside, often valuable information, that does not fit our paradigm, our world view, our value system. With this in mind things really get interesting!

Social Media makes each and every person who has access to the internet, a copy editor in their own right. Each of us have the opportunity to share our information, our values, our accepted truths, without censorship. Each one believing that what they publish is gospel, because it is what we believe, and given that we are taught to live in a world of duality, we mostly take sides and face off on against the other. Social media becomes sport, even if you don’t have an athletic bone in your body!

The Power of Social Media – The people running the campaigns in the US knew this, only one group was far better at it than the other, and the results bear witness to this. By using the poverty of attention principle it was (and continues to be) possible to focus people on emotional content that fits their accepted paradigm, as opposed to well vetted truth, or meaningful, well supported, documented, footnoted, clear and concise information, the kind we used to get from newsprint prepared in morning and evening editions by professional journalists. The Bernstein and Woodward kind.

Twitter has 140 word character limit. Unless adept at Haiku, one cannot tell a story in this short span, but one can certainly choose words that will evoke some serious emotion, which coupled with thought generate feelings, and then more words. It’s fabulous, brilliant, it’s as if someone, somewhere really got McLuhan’s “Understanding Media” concepts and rolled it out on an unsuspecting public, enamored with their toys, looking for words to publish, feeling every word they thumb type, totally distracted by too much information.

Social Media makes everyone a copy editor, and, I bet that has a lot of well educated journalists and copy editors pretty pissed off. All the degrees, the internships, the deadlines, the sweat and tears to make it in the news room, and anyone who can get their hands on a smartphone can publish anything they want. Truth, lies, injustice, it does not matter. The medium is the message, truth be damned, let’s throw more information at the poverty of attention.

How do we cope? What can we do? It is so divisive, there is no filter on social media, and to create one starts arguments against the first amendment. Being in the computer business for most of my career I have seen the advent of email and texting, and have often been amazed at how the barriers come down when the eyes (and ears) are no longer involved in the conversion. There was an app called “Phone” on the computers I used in the 80’s and I quickly learned that it was very easy to use innuendo and suggestion to get others to reveal their true feelings. AOL’s IM was the same way, and texting has now put it in everyone’s hands. Be careful what you text for, you may get it! Texts are undercurrents, social media is skywriting by comparison.

What is the power? It gives and it takes away. I have to say honestly, that it is very hard to track news anymore. I follow the sources I have always, but then have to spend time researching the news and understanding the sources, and especially the emotional content and what is NOT said in the report. Just like the days of the Iron Curtain, it is difficult to determine what is going on on the other side of the darkness. It is easy to make the sale if the customer is anxious to get on to the next thing. In sales, the one with the most patience wins.

This is how it is used against us, we don’t know for certain, so we need to consciously slow the pace, lest the horse get away from us, and we get knocked to the ground by a tree branch! Opinions are emotional content. While they are stirring to read and reply to on social media, does it serve any purpose other than to make you feel good or bad? I have never been in a argument with someone where they changed their mind at the end. Eckhart Tolle called it ” a failure to accommodate competing narratives”. Social media is not a sport, there are no winners or losers at our level. As long as we compete with each other, we lose and the ones who are driving the worlds economies are winning. A house divided against itself cannot stand.

How do we use it to create positive change? Stop competing with each other. Social media is not debate club! That club was very small in High School, no one was standing at the door clamoring to get in. Get educated – read the constitution – do you have a copy? Understand the structures of government, don’t discuss “isms” without understanding them and the reasons they came to be. In many cases they work well. Discuss history – even if it was written after the fact, and learn the facts that aren’t in the history books. There is so much access to good information today it’s almost fun do do the reseach. Know the sources of information, there is a counter culture today that is uncovering information that never made into Encyclopedia Britannica. Ask questions … Why do you feel that way? What would make things different? And most of all, in my mind, remember the words of Jon Donne … every man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls – It tolls for thee!

Images and Link to the US Constitution

15 thoughts on “The Power of Social Media

  1. I like what you wrote here. However, I find it humorously ironic that statements in your 4th paragraph indicate that most people would not read this piece due to a lack of attention. Nevertheless, it is good reading for anyone with a mind for reading.

  2. I read the whole thing. You make very valid points, especially about attention span. I think most in the information biz know that if they can’t capture readers by the headline, they won’t get the first paragraph read. But I don’t think most readers go beyond the headline, sadly.

    • Yes, Media knows that and more. Have you ever heard of NLP? There is very limited info available to the general public about it. We need to pay more attention to the details, and read between the lines!

      • NLP. That’s some interesting stuff. Power of suggestion and reinforcement. I agree. Take responsibility and get your details.

  3. “Be careful what you text for, you may get it!”

    I loved this line.

    In fact, I loved all the lines you presented here. Yes, reading the Constitution is a good start. Reading history you can learn that the forefathers of America did not want a Christian nation and designed the new government to be totally separate from any one religion and all religions.

    I have stopped watching television news and reading newspapers even though I once served as a newspaper reporter. I am going to follow Dan Rather, if I can ever figure out how to get on his Twitter Blog. Is that what you call a Twitter offering? A Blog?

    Reading works like the one presented here will also help. I can relate to your truth and like the Buddha, accept it when I have digested it and found it does no harm but helps all of mankind (women too!)

    Thanks GrandfatherSky!

    Michael J

    • I recently got a copy of the constitution, and its interesting as a foundation to our government. As you well know Constitutional Law is a specialty that not many chose as a focus in Law school. I think we just follow someone on Twitter … Best to focus on one medium to start – use you computer to log in and set up your twitter “feeds” after that branch out into phones and tablets. I agree truth is about growth not contraction, about life, and not harm!

  4. Thanks for this, Peter. Such a great piece of writing. I think patience has taken a vacation in recent years or maybe forever and instant gratification is the new king. And thanks for your advice. It is paramount that we glean real, honest-to-God facts and take the time to do it – find trusted journalists, read well-considered editorials and slow down!

    • Cathy – So important to move at the speed of mind, and not be driven by some artificial means that causes distraction / destruction. As a scuba diver you know the importance of measured breathing … We all need to pause and take that lesson, slow down and pay attention to our breath… Thanks!

  5. This is great! You are right! And along with all your points… Social Media has also become an excuse to not buy greeting cards! Lol.
    Hey Pete, did you know that on your gravatar page you don’t have your blog address posted? When people click on your pic from another page to find your blog, it doesn’t automatically lead you to your blog. Just saying… more people might find your brilliance if you had it listed.

    • Di – Thanks for pointing that out about the gravatar. Yes I’m surprised Hallmark is still doing well! I’m finally starting back to work next week… How about you? Hope things are going well … All the best, Peter

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