How does one begin to carry on with one’s life and work when the tide of history overwhelms a society? This week I have had numerous conversations with colleagues about the myriad and often conflicting ideas and feelings we have been asked to hold alongside each other. Initially I had been asked by one supervisee if I was going to write about the bombings in Boston, and my immediate response to him was, “No.” I have seen too many colleagues either consciously or unconsciously use their social media to self-promote during times of tragedy. Although I am a believer in the importance of self-promotion in building one’s business, this is not the time.
Hundreds of people in my Twitter feed and online seem to agree. From therapist to marketing types, people noticed when your automatic Tweets continued unabated as the events of this week were unfolding. And whether they were individual or enterprise level businesses, the response was pretty much the same, “turn it off.”
And I agree, now is not the time to self-promote one’s business or market, which ironically leaves those of us with social media back at where Web 2.0 all began. Not for marketing, but for community.
So what I did want to discuss today I sincerely hope will be heard as sharing thoughts and feelings across the range of you all, who reading this are to some extent part of my community. And why I want to discuss the topic of social media today is to offer some ideas to keep in mind as we go through the next piece of our history together.
Social media collapses time and space. As I listened from my locked down house simultaneously to Twitter, the police scanner via Broadcastify, Facebook and other platforms, I heard firsthand how information and misinformation could spread far more quickly than it could have on 9/11. Social media use and technology in general played a huge part in the ability to share, identify and ultimately capture one suspect. It also hindered investigation at times by creating chatter that looped back to law enforcement in ways that were more confusing than helpful.
As someone who lives 2 miles from the explosions, a mile from where Patrol Officer Collier was killed, and far too close to the 7-11 and site of the carjacking, the week and especially last 48 hours were horrifying, confusing and anxiety-provoking for me. But social media allowed me to reach out to friends, family, and colleagues, collapsing space in a way that brought a lot of comfort and support. I can’t say enough about the gratitude I felt that the ping of Facebook and Twitter were heard consistently amidst the constant sirens and other sudden noises that hypervigilance brings.
Social media helped me express more pride as a Bostonian and New Englander could have ever imagined, as memes like this one popped up on and were shared by me on Facebook:
For those of you who aren’t locals, this pretty much summarizes how we people in the Hub of the Universe are, and how we dealt with things this week.
Unfortunately, social media also collapsed the space between MA and Arkansas, when we were subjected to this Tweet:
As enraging as this post was, social media allowed many of us in Boston to respond to this, including yours truly, with our Bostonian blunt arguments and a dash of humor thrown in:
Social Media allowed thousands of people to respond alongside me, causing Bell to say to the Associated Press, “I really didn’t think about it going to Boston and was generally expressing my personal view of how I would have felt in that situation myself.”
This is one thing I hope we all can keep in mind over the next days and weeks, that we can remember the power of social media to collapse space and time and reach and impact a global and thus diverse audience. Such a collapse can help bring comfort or quicken the pace of misinformation; bring a city together or divide a nation.
Social media amplifies feelings and emotions. I hope colleagues can keep this in mind as we continue forward through the next days and weeks. Social media can amplify love and community, and it can amplify hatred and racism. It can amplify hysteria or reasonable thinking. Social media can amplify comfort and applause, and it can amplify grief and vicarious trauma.
Please think before you tweet, post or share. Ask yourself what you are shouting into the village square, what you are bringing to the conversation. If you think you have something important to say, say it. When in doubt, refrain. Turn off your autobots advertising your wares or workshops for a bit. And above all please remember that you are speaking to people you may not even imagine, whose experience of what has been happening ranges from the loss of an intellectual argument to the loss of a limb to the loss of a loved one.
How does one begin to carry on with one’s life and work when the tide of history overwhelms a society? I’d like to suggest the answer is, carefully, thoughtfully, humbly and compassionately.