Ah the internet is such a cool place to be. Specifically social media. The best and worst thing about this place we inhabit is equity. Literally anyone with access to these free platforms can have a voice, find their people, and share their ideas. But as an absolute democratization is not positive. When opinions feign as fact and trends illicit commentary on topics that the public has no expertise in we run the risk of being swallowed by ideological sludge.
The energy and time it takes to give fair appraisal to every comment and idea expressed on screen is enough to overwhelm even the most virile of minds. What occurs as an endless open mic is actually some combination of ranting mob, echo chamber, group therapy, and black whole of exploratory thought.
What it is not, is a safe space for inquiry. It is not a sterile lab for intellectual experiment. There is no rigor, no privacy, no heartfelt analysis. It is a public forum for catharsis, shouting, and verbose emotional spillage. But it does not have to be. This makes the case for intellectual minimalism.
In order to get the most out of these public spaces we first need to realize that who we are talking to. There is a difference between an audience, the nebulous group of strangers you address on Facebook, and a listener, a specific archetype or figure that you focus on when sharing. We must ask ourselves “Who is this for?”
Writing, even in its most pedestrian forms should be an exercise guided by some intention. The intention could be to rant, or express free thought. This is not about policing our voices or censorship but instead realizing that sometimes when we post it is simply a journal entry that we have put in the middle of a hallway for anyone to read. The audience we are addressing is anyone and everyone, as the purpose for writing is to release our own feelings, express, find clarity, or decompress. But we must recognize that we are not anonymous. By publishing, (yes, posting to social media is publishing) we subject ourselves to the scrutiny of the public eye. If we are not yet in a place where we can handle this scrutiny it might be best to leave this cathartic writing in the privacy of our journals.
If we do have a listener in mind. A particular type of person we would like to speak to, we need to be clear about how best to reach that listener. How to capture their attention, keep it, and effectively get our message across. This is an entirely different type of writing than the former. Too often we see a ragged combination of both that effectively accomplishes neither. This mutes those voices that go unheard by scrambling our feeds with white noise. Sometimes it is better to simply listen and consider without reply.
The impulse to step into social or political dialogue is in some way how we all come to comprehend our culture. By engaging in these conversations we are better able to orient ourselves amidst our peers and approach understanding. When this discourse is public there is a nefarious incentive to voice our support for a particular idea by reiterating points that have already been made. If we are not careful to fully understand the ideas we share, we might find that we are unintentionally doing more harm than good by presenting straw man arguments of well thought out positions, destroying one of the seldom seen opportunities to create common ground.
Before we dive head first into the murky waters of social media chatter it is helpful to check the water, see if we can handle the depth, or ask ourselves if we are simply interested in splashing around. The conditions of the conversation and how we feel about it can make all the difference between being contributory or being one more voice in an already inaudible mob.