Friday, May 11, 2012

Life in the News Feed

Because this just begs for a FB post...

I went for a bike ride the other day and, as often happens when I ride alone without music in my ear, I found myself composing my morning in the form of a Facebook status. I condensed my glorious ride amid the cornfields into various haikus extolling the wonders of birdsong and the relative merits of prairie wind and New England hills in building strong lungs and muscles. Pure poetry, I tell you. I almost never post my mid-exercise poetic ramblings for public consumption (or, rather, the consumption of those lucky 308 people subjected occasionally to my mutterings on their news feed). However, I find it amusing that I think of my life in those terms.

A friend of mine once found herself in the uncomfortable spotlight of an ongoing news event. As the spokesperson for one side of a political issue, she saw her views reduced to 10-second sound bytes. She would respond to interview questions thoughtfully, only to discover hours later that the sound byte that made the evening news gave a distressingly skewed vision of her stance.

I find the Facebook news feed somewhat akin to the 10-second sound byte: life condensed into a phrase or two. However, in social media I retain control over my 10 seconds of fame (unless, of course, my teenage son sneaks onto my account). Control is a wonderful thing, though with the control comes also the necessity of taking responsibility for that passionate comment posted in the heat of the moment. Oops.

The sociolinguist in me loves the alternately fascinating and annoying window into a filtered world that social media provides. I have a host of people from various phases of my life that I now recognize in snippets, like the vision of a party illuminated in the pulse of a strobe light. Mark builds a marvelous collection of photos from his daily commute into Boston. A host of friends poke fun at life with a sardonic wit that leaves me laughing to myself in an empty house in the middle of the morning.  A former student of mine sailed around the world this spring and posted pictures that inspire me with possibilities.

On the other hand…well, I will spare you my diatribe against emotional exhibitionism, unresearched political scare tactics, the endless minutiae of health woes, and those awful “copy this into your status if you want to end world hunger/support abused children/tell your mother you love her” statuses that leave you feeling like a heartless guttersnipe for scoffing and refusing to re-post. Men and women have died for the right to freedom of speech. Who am I to trample on that freedom just because my news feed occasionally makes me cringe and wish for the days of stone tablets?

I suppose that in the short term, until social media gives way to another cultural phase, I will continue to frame my life in random chunks of thought. This week’s snapshot, for instance? “Strawberry picking with my fellow crazy ladies. Laughter and freezer jam cure a multitude of ills.”


  1. I spent the first 15 minutes of my ride today composing my status update then I remembered reading this post and I decided to enjoy the rest of the ride.