Social Media Needs A Disruption

I’m a massive daydreamer. I’m also a compulsive pacer. It’s a bad combination.

This summer, I would randomly get an idea at work, stand up, and begin to pace around the entire office, much to the fascination of my coworkers. One dude asked me what I was constantly thinking about. “Work?” he asked.

Was I going to tell him I was thinking about how the Redskins were going to go 12-4 this season and head to the Super Bowl? Was I going to tell him I was thinking about a story that I wanted to write about a guy meeting a gal in a rain-drenched parking lot in the middle of Chicago? Was I going to tell him my mind was on the seventeenth business idea I had that summer, this one about a replacement for toilet paper? (Don’t ask.)

“Work,” I replied nonchalantly, and smiled back.

We live in a society that encourages conventionality above all else. Social media accounts are carefully controlled. Bad Insta pics are deleted; unflattering Facebook tags are untagged. All to keep within this thin veneer of “normalcy” that has become the dominant personality structure across the Internet. Crawl a herd of Facebook accounts, and you’ll find conformity and inoffensiveness resonant above all else.

But we’re not all the same. There are 16 Myers-Briggs Personality Type Combinations. I’m an INTJ (“The Architect”). On the four temperaments scale, I’m Choleric – goal-oriented, charismatic, but prone of outbursts of passion. We’re all very different human beings – just don’t ask Facebook. We all look the same on Facebook.

Where has all the fun gone on Facebook?
Where has all the fun gone on Facebook?

I used to think my most passionate moments were my sunspots; that they were embarrassing and that should be hidden from public view. In eighth grade, I was set to deliver the opening speech to the new members of the public speaking team. I wrote a story about a robber who was stopped by a cop, and then, after a scuffle, accidentally shot him. (This was not in any way political, I promise!) After I read the speech in front of some boggled eyes, my English teacher told me to come outside. She told me I wrote a really beautiful story. She also told me my story was incredibly offensive (including calling cops “fuzz” and graphically depicting violence) and that she was suspending me three days of school. Consequently, I fixated on the offensive nature of my speech for four years of my life, seeing the speech as a humiliating moment, never to be repeated again.

I’m not saying what I did wasn’t wrong. But recently, I’ve been exploring the other side of the coin… that she also said that what I wrote was beautiful. Indeed, in creating a provocative, even offensive, work of art, I created something that had a kind of power that elevated it above the others.

The Digital Art class I took last semester highly influenced this switch in mindset. In the class, my professor encouraged us to make “subversive” artworks that challenged not only our thinking, but also the unconscious processes and assumptions that form the foundation for our thinking. In Beautiful Trouble, an art-philosophy critique we read together, author and digital artist Andrew Boyd talks about Détournement, French for “culture hijacking.” Détournement refers to the use of art for disruptive purposes, intended to challenge or undermine a conception or assumption people have in society. The foundational idea of his book is that disruption in itself is a kind of beauty. A kind of aesthetic that makes a work of art all the stronger. Oftentimes the impact of art is not just in an appeal to logic and rationalism; there is often a greater spirit infused inside, a spirit of what some call “jackassery.”

Back in the 20th and early 21st century, these “jackasses” were often extreme men with extreme visions. They were the artists who dared replace the stars of several American flags with corporate logos. They were the artists that hacked into several multinational banking websites and redid their home pages. They were people like Chris Burden, who literally shot himself and recorded it on video. Yes, this was called art. Armed with only their creative instincts, they disarmed the mental framework of a nation.

But back then, there was no social media, and artists needed to be a bit extreme to get noticed. These days, it’s the opposite. Due to social media, it’s easy to put your work out there to be consumed by the general public. Yet, also due to social media, conformity has also become so entrenched in our world, so assumed as a fact of social survival, that any kind of disruption on the net, extreme or not, is met with an irrational hostility and even fear. One could argue that the current oversensitivity of the millennial generation can be directly linked back to increasing reliance on social media, which makes its money off of affirming exactly who we are, showing us only the things we want to be shown.

The end result of such a culture of rigidity is a fake, inaccurate portrayal of who we are as humans. And sure, one might argue, fakery is forgivable offense. But social media (especially Facebook) has become worse than fake. It has become boring. And that’s unforgivable.

Nowhere do I see less innovation and intellectual engagement than on Facebook. I see carefully manicured statuses that are stylistic carbon copies of each other, utterly detestable “@W has a secret crush on you!” slogans, and the same mind-numbing political pandering that has oversimplified complex discourse into several turns of phrase. Social media has become less of an interest, more of a chore, a necessary evil to “keep up with the Joneses.”

In this cloying blandness, the air is ripe for dropping a couple ground-shaking bombs. There needs to be a revolution in the way we write and produce on social media. To work within the confines of the machine is to sacrifice our authenticity. Instead of acquiescing, relegating ourselves to simpleminded cogs, we need to learn to take the wheel.

We need to learn not to simply produce content to gain likes, but to produce content that redefines what it means to “like” something. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, said it best:

“Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Out job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!'” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

That’s innovation. That’s the direction we need to steer social media.

And we need to encourage creativity by radically restructuring one of our most treasured habits: the “like” button. (Or the heart, or the retweet, or whatever the heck is out there these days) We need to learn to reward creative thinkers with “likes” independent of their political views, their relationships, or the quality of their profile pictures. We need to develop a respect for innovation over conformity. What do we tell the machine? Do we want it to reward mental stimulation or obliteration? The future of social media is in our hands.

This summer, I decided that I was no longer going to suppress my individuality – to suppress the fact that I’m Choleric, an INTJ, a daydreamer and a pacer. I decided, like Ulysses, to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield – especially on social media, the ultimate case study in inhibiting, suppressing, hiding, and yielding. I decided, in effect, to be a disruptor. It’s not only good for me, ever a Holden Caulfield, but it’s good for social media. And as social media slowly eats away at humanity, it’s good for humanity.


With thanks to Keelan Scharbach, Davidson College Class of 2019, for her contributions and editing.

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