I found out about the explosions at the Boston Marathon yesterday from Twitter, while sitting in the Chicago O’Hare International Airport. My Twitter stream and Facebook news feed were flooded with hopes, prayers and news stories about the ongoing crisis. Googling “Boston Marathon explosion” brought me to a New York Times article posted two hours earlier. Flipping back to Twitter I saw someone had posted a Vine of the actual explosion. I hesitated for a moment, wondering if this was really something I wanted to watch, before clicking play. Police are now requesting videos or photos from anyone who witnessed the event in an effort to piece together what went so very wrong.
With the slew of social media evidence of this atrocity joining the Internet’s infinite photo album of human suffering I have to wonder, to what extent are we being negatively desensitized by social media? It is obviously important to understand what is happening in the world, but how much is too much?
Another recent event comes to mind when considering the effects of social media on emergencies. One month ago a vigil was held in Brooklyn for a 16-year-old who had been killed by police. The shooting, however, was not the main story. Residents who participated in the vigil marched to the 67th precinct as a form of non-violent protest. Social mediaites present or following the story began to tweet about the protest with the tag “#brooklynriots.” Participants quickly became active on Twitter requesting that those tweeting about the event use “#brooklynprotest” instead, in order to prevent any misunderstandings about the nature of what was occurring. This points out the fragile nature of social media in emergency situations, and has opened up a debate about the use of specific words.
When social media acts as a rumor mill, it can have devastating effects. To me the real problem, however, is the effect that constantly updated news is having on the attention span of empathy. It is a safe bet that in one to two weeks from now the social media streams will be clear of mentions about the Boston Marathon explosions. They will be refilled with other information, likely including a few new disasters or catastrophes. My concern is that we are losing the ability to care about anything for more than a few weeks. Aren’t families still suffering from “superstorm sandy”? Once individuals confirm that their own loved ones are safe via text messages or phone calls, do they stop paying as much attention to a catastrophe if it doesn’t directly affect their lives?
I do believe social media has proved itself to be a valuable tool in times of emergency, but at the end of the day I still wonder, are we only concerned with what everyone else is talking about?
In my Minds and Brains class we’re studying experimental phenomenology. One of the core principles of this is ‘describe, don’t explain’.
Ironically enough I recently experienced this concept in action while online shopping.
I was looking for a specific product for Coachella. I knew exactly what it looked like in my head, but I couldn’t seem to find it online. I tried all the obvious search terms. Forehead band, flower headband, festival band. I tried all the usual haunts. Etsy, Asos, Top Shop, Wanelo. It wasn’t until (through tireless searching, variations, and determination) that I discovered the product I was searching for, under the most seemingly obvious adjectives: “flower crown“. Oh. Duh.
Every day on the Lovely Twitter account I tweet an “apartment hunting tip of the day.” Searching for tricks and tips about apartment hunting I’ve learned to mix it up with my search terms. Tricks, advice, hints, wisdom, tips. The extent to which variation of tagging exists around a singular topic or item is impressive. It is easy to forget that not everyone thinks in the same search terms, and even easier to give up when everything that has worked in the past yields no results.
The incredible thing about the Internet is that it is a tool whose quirks and secrets are constantly evolving, at a pace which is outright intimidating. If you are struggling to find the perfect item or nugget of information just remember: If at first you do not succeed, think outside your search terms.
A moment from the pre-historic pre-iphone years
I’m going to be honest. When I first heard about Twitter back in 2006 (seven years ago? yikes..) I thought it seemed pretty silly. At fourteen my Facebook feed was filled with the narcissistic statuses of my peers, and I assumed Twitter would be nothing but that. By the time college rolled around I had sheepishly jumped on the Twitter bandwagon. I used my (private) Twitter account like most people my age, recounting “hilarious” occurrences in my daily life. I followed somewhere around 200 other accounts, and my Twitter feed was filled with garbage that failed to interest me whatsoever. As far as I was concerned, Twitter was a pretty big joke.
Then one day I entered the startup world, and my mind was changed forever. Never before had I experienced such a technology infused life as exists in the Bay Area. People in the Bay eat, sleep and breath technology to an extent I couldn’t have imagined.
Over the course of my work with LiveLovely and a recently started curation internship with The Fetch, I have begun to understand the fine tunings of Twitter as a social tool. The site provides an incredible opportunity for networking, providing praise and encouragement to others, and most of all sharing content and ideas. While imitation has always been considered the highest form of flattery, in 2013 I think the ‘re-tweet’ has won that prize.
As a Social Media Manager (with a new Twitter handle) I’ve come to a few conclusions about the best way to use Twitter. If you’re trying to grow your followers, don’t go fishing. Instead, (and here’s a camp counselor analogy for you) make your peanut butter covered pine cone bird feeders (post interesting and engaging content) and the birds will find you. What makes a good tweet? Before you post a tweet take a moment to ask yourself “would this make me smile/laugh/think/want to retweet if someone else tweeted it?” By posting thoughtful and engaging content you increase your chances of attracting high quality followers who will be worth following. If you’re looking for a response from a corporate account or you’re trying to be retweeted use all the spelling and punctuation rules you learned in elementary school, be appropriate, use your real name, and incorporate the [@]whoever into your tweet.
If all else fails just remember, the internet loves cats.