Garbage in, garbage out
The Times' Roger Cohen ran a not-even delightfully cranky column about that "scourge of the modern world": people sharing on social media. In this column, he lists what he sees his friends, acquaintances, and others he finds worthy of following talking about:
So let us absorb the mass of unwanted shared personal information and images that wash over one, like some great viscous tide full of stuff one would rather not think about -- other people's need for Icelandic lumpfish caviar, their numb faces at the dentist, their waffles and sausage, their appointments with their therapists, their personal hygiene, their pimples and pets, their late babysitters, their grumpy starts to the day, their rude exchanges, their leaking roofs, their faith in homeopathy, their stressing out, and all the rest.
Now, I've been on Twitter for a long time, Facebook even longer, though in a more limited capacity. And I've never noticed these topics permeating my timeline. Let's just take a look. These are summaries of the first 20 tweets on my timeline:
1. Link to story on Wall Street job losses.
2. Link to story about startup funding.
3. Joke about Senate's Jim Demint.
4. Link to a robotic arm project created by teenagers.
5. Link to story about nuclear energy news in 2012.
6. Link to two podcasts about social science and free speech.
7. Joke about Harvard and the presidency (part of a longer conversation).
8. Link to a story about a new drilling permit in the Arctic.
9. Link to John McAfee blogging story.
10. Link to story about Jim Demint resigning.
11. Link to new Star Trek movie teaser.
12. Link to story about The Verge party.
13. Link to story poking fun at Financial Times for lame hip hop references.
14. Link to M83 music video.
15. Link to story about tax incentives in New York.
16. Link to a Montreal comedy festival.
17. Quote from a link proffered elsewhere in my timeline.
18. Analysis of recent election.
19. Difficult to parse joke.
20. Link to Polish children's books from the 1950s.
Now, you may or may not consider this an interesting set of information, but I do. And that's the point! You've got the big political news of the day (Demint), the big financial news (job cuts at Citi), a continuing big tech story (McAfee), a story about an area of interest (startup funding), a neat thing (robotic arm!), a whimsical thing (Polish children's books!), energy news, movie news, party news, new podcasts, and a music video from a band I like.
Sadly, though, there is nothing in this stream about waffles or the dentist, anyone's therapist, pimples, roofs, grumps, homeopathy, or any kind of Icelandic specialty food item.
My diagnosis is simple, Roger: your friends and associates are terrible and boring. Being that you are a smart and interesting guy who would distill only the finest information from any social network, the problem is the garbage going into your feed, which can only come out as garbage in your column. And that garbage is being created by the people who you choose to follow and know.
So, the manly, un-Generation Wuss thing to do, would be to simply stop communicating with all of your friends. You can finally stop hearing about all their loathsome life activities like getting psychological help, petting their animals, and having a hard day sometimes. Maybe stop talking with people all together. Without their insufferable problems like enjoying eating and having their teeth cleaned, you will be able to think in peace.
Perhaps you should get back to the classics of Western Civilization. I mean, does Job complain about his hard days? Does Ulysses go to the dentist? Does P.G. Wodehouse eat Icelandic lumpfish caviar? Who needs friends when you have these men of intellect and action?
Or, if you want (I'm serious here!), I'll provide you with some more detailed social media consulting, helping you create a presence that's actually useful. These tools are only as good as the network you create on them. And if you're being honest about what you see on Twitter and Facebook, you're a terrible builder.
We want to hear what you think. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.