Sharon Steel’s recent column for Time Out New York, “Is social media bad for NYC?,” may be the most excessively aggrandizing New York-centric thing I’ve ever read. Are New Yorkers really this fucking self-involved and shitty? Do we really need another tired rag against Facebook & co.?
Maybe I’m just annoyed by anyone who thinks the Digital Revolution is more than it is. Granted, I’m not all that tech savvy; I don’t have an iPhone, I don’t have a Tumblr, and I only spend hours every day on the Internet because, well, it’s my job. But is all that much different, really? Do we do anything we didn’t do before? Social media is just a tool: it fosters connection and self-expression. Steel complains that all our fancy 2.0 technology has devalued our day-to-day lives: we're all too wired-in and distracted to appreciate anything anymore. And it has to be true, right? Just look how that girl at the restaurant takes a picture of her dessert to share on Facebook! Check out that guy in the front row recording the band on stage, just so he can post the video on YouTube! Holy God, someone somewhere is Tweeting!
I understand that Facebook & co. can turn unmanageable: hundreds of non-friends whose posts and status updates you don’t give a fuck about. But Brooke Moreland (founder of Fashism), I think, puts it best: “Social media has only helped to make my going-out experiences richer… There is a lot of good stuff in New York, but there is a lot of crap too. I want to maximize my money and time by going to the best places in the company of the best people.” That’s when Facebook & co. really works: it’s how I know about upcoming concerts, art openings, house parties, etc. (even this TONY article I found on Facebook). Steel, however, has to talk to some sad sack of shit who’s apparently OD’d on Internet: “Baruch Herzfeld, owner of Traif Bike Gesheft, admits: ‘I used to go swimming every day. Now I don’t do that because I don’t have [Facebook] access in the pool. If I exercise, I go jogging or something, because that way I can access it.’”
Rick Webb, in his excellent rebuttal to Steel’s column, ends with a quote from William Gibson, and I liked it so much I figured I’d share it too:
“Emergent technology is the most powerful single driver of change in the world, and it has been forever. Technology trumps politics. Technology trumps religion. It just does. And that’s why we are where we are now. It seems so self-evident to me that I can never go to that Technology: threat or menace? position. Okay, well, if we don’t do this, what are we going to do? This is not only what we do, it’s literally who we are as a species. We’ve become something other than what our ancestors were.
I’m sitting here at age 52 with almost all of my own teeth. That didn’t used to happen. I’m a cyborg. I’m immune to any number of lethal diseases by virtue of technology. I’m sitting on top of this enormous pyramid of technology that starts with flint hand-axes and finds me in a hotel in Austin, Texas, talking to someone thousands of miles away on a telephone and that’s just what we do. At this point, we don’t have the option of not being technological creatures.”