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Your Tweets: The New Object d’Art

2 Dec

Recently, a friend sent an article asking if social media is bad for NYC to an email list shared by some of my close friends.  While I know everyone has their own opinions of various social-media outlets, here’s a quick rundown of my views, based mostly on a great deal of cultural and media research.

It is anecdotally true that there is a cultural shift that involves documentation as part of the social experience.  Whether this is long-term or even vastly wide-spread has yet to be studied on a large enough scale to warrant a yea or nay from the world of social science.  Being someone who reads (a lot) of theory about these things, I assume that this cultural shift is similar to the theoretical shift seen post-WII in culture, society and media.  Ok, so, post-modernism starts at the end of WW-I and people are very taking notice by the 1950, at the very latest.  The term post-modern had certainly been used in literary and cultural criticism by that point.  Add to the the widespread use of the television, and you’ve got a media-based cultural revolution.  This gives rise to everything from needing our President to be cute (thanks for sweating a lot on TV, Nixon) to pop-art.  The fragmentation allowed to each individual through their separation from group gathering is very indicative of every type of media in this period.  Everyone is obsessed with the same figures, yet everyone is isolated from a group.  Images and media are seen as less “authentic” (in the way Benjamin used the term authentic) due to their consistent reproducibility.  Cultural critics worry we’ve lost originality in the age of post-modernity.

Two things then happen.  First, the Internet, then 9/11.  Much in the way that the majority of vast cultural changes can be linked with basic events in world history (often military/war related), such is the case here.  The ability for people to connect immediately, to give information instananeously is seen as neccesarry by our culture in a post-9/11 climate.  The technology available to us allows us to shift from isolated media images that require separation to isolated media images that require “virtual” community.  Part of the beauty of social media is the interconnectivity of information sharing.  Hitchcock said he liked to put one thing in his movies that he would call “ice box talk.”  It was the piece of information that everyone would discuss as curious or incongruous after having seen the film.  Hitchcock wanted people to be so puzzled by it that they would still be thinking about it, hours later, as they gazed into the icebox hours after their film-viewing experience was over.  It would prompt thought, discussion and drive people a little bit crazy.  This is the same concept as discussing a “must-see” TV show moment around an office-place water-cooler, a commonplace referrence made during the late-80s and through the 90s.  Now, we don’t have to have a physical place to locate in order to share our cultural obsessions; we can tweet them with a hashtag and share with thousands of others the very instant we watch Vertigo and can’t figure out how Madeleine was in the fucking window of the hotel if she hadn’t checked in (damn, you Hitchcock — icebox talk strikes again!)  This culture and type of media has also grown to include ourselves as part of the media, itself.

That’s fucking fascinating, y’all! We are the cultural objects being studied at the same time as we are the ones studying.  We need to know things as they happen, but we need to analyze them, as well.  I think as this trend continues and/or we get historical and societal distance from it, we will very much see 9/11 and twitter as interconnected and integral parts of our growth and change as a larger cultural group.

So, are New Yorkers (and the rest of the world) navel-gazing a little bit more than they had in the past?  Yes and no.  Just as much as people wanted to be part of the avant-garde set who saw the latest show the second it came and knew the next big artist before she made it big, so do they want to be a part of this creation, as well.  The self-importance isn’t new; the way the information is gathered and disseminated is.