Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Digital coma

OK, one last post about social media and the effect that it has on us (or, more accurately, some of us)...

I was recently pleased to see that a user of Twitter had called to task two separate tweets that described Dusky Warblers as 'stunning'. They are not. They make Dunnocks look positively exotic. A rainbow is stunning. The Northern Lights are stunning. The Milky Way is stunning. Dusky Warblers are not. It got me thinking as to why the composers of said 'Dusky Warbler' tweets felt compelled to use the word 'stunning'. I blame peer pressure and, of course, social media.

Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat (keep up Grandad) are all based on the notion that short, sharp messages/images can be sent out into the world so that others can read/see what you are doing. For a certain demographic this means looking good, being seen to be having fun and, most crucially 'having a better time than you'. So when you see an image of a meal, a group shot of friends out for a drink, or the view from a hotel balcony, they have to be aspirational - the food needs to look delicious, the people have to be all smiling, and the weather conditions on the balcony hot and sunny. And as for the selfies, well, posing has become an art form, with the need for the ability to catch the right angle, know what is your best side and maybe - just maybe - how to use a photo filter to get the best out of your image.

What has that got to do with middle-aged birders? Well, quite a lot actually. As much as most stick to Twitter and Facebook, the same rules that the youth follow seem to apply. A Dusky Warbler is not enough just by being rare. It has to be stunning. Stunning suggests an event. It suggests an emotional happening. It suggests that 'you really should have been here'. People don't do 'ordinary' or even 'interesting'. They want to be seen to be doing 'stunning'.

And it's not just the kids that overdose on selfies. There are several birders out there that are forever plastering pictures of their faces all over the place for us all to see. Posing on a headland. Gurning at a Birdfair. Reclining in a hide. In a car on the way to a twitch. Having dipped. Having 'scored'. I have alluded to the 'group shot' of birding 'crews' already, lined up aspiring to be ornithological gunslingers or pretending to be following in the footsteps of Shackleton or Scott, rather than just about to go birding. Narcissistic? Just being sociable? Does it really matter? No, not really, but it's fair to comment on such a social phenomena. Maybe I'm just jealous that I'm not with them, having fun, being a trailblazer, part of a scene. And deep down that's exactly what their purpose is, to make you feel envious. Maybe I'm reading too much into it.

The last aspect I'll touch on is the need for some birders to let us all know that they have 'found' a bird, as in 'I have just found a Hoopoe Lark at Dungeness'. I know plenty of birders who regularly find good birds and who never feel the need to do anything other than report the presence of said rarity, such as 'Hoopoe Lark at Dungeness, present on grass by Old Lighthouse'. Do we need to know that you have found it? Isn't this just another symptom of social media that reduces us to become mini marketing machines, pumping out information to promote ourselves?

Did I say that was my last point? Sorry, thought of something else. Social media, buy dint of the need for brevity, is slowly turning us all into lazy practitioners in the use of our language. Hence the overuse of words like 'awesome', 'stunning' and 'cracking'. They have become a lazy shorthand. Thought is going out of the window.

And before anybody accuses me of being on a high horse, I can be just as guilty as others. This subject fascinates me as much as it infuriates me. We are (mostly) sleepwalking into a digital coma. We need to be aware before it's too late.

16 comments:

  1. For once I don't agree, Steve. I'll need time to mull over it but will reply in due course!

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  2. Nice post Steve. Although for very different reasons (if only all my school-friends were nature-enthusiasts!) I have avoided virtually all forms of social media - unless blogs or barely used Google+ count?
    The amount of hassle and effort that some people put into organising 'stories' on Instagram/Snapchat or whatever else can sometimes get annoying!

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    1. It must take some willpower from you Arjun to keep off of most forms of social media - plenty of people your age couldn't function without it!

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  3. Steve. Buddy. You need to start looking quite closely at something absorbing, maybe lichens, lock yourself at a microscope with a bunch of books to hand -well away from anything at all to do with social media. Give yourself some headspace, time to clear this build-up of whatever it is that has you so unsettled of late. Maybe not lichens (they're b*stard awful organisms at best of times) but something. Drop the digi- from your life, just for a while. Sod the stats, sod the tweets and retweets, mate - just step aside from the mad rush for a time and recoup, observe nature not those chasing it.

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    1. Thank you nurse, that injection you just gave me has made me feel quite mellow.... ah, yes... I can see those lichens now, they look like little cauliflowers. They're speaking to me! What was it that was in that syringe Seth?!!? SETH?!!!!'

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  4. All makes me glad that I don't subscribe to Twitter, Facebook, etc., there was me thinking that you got simple pleasure from doing your own thing and not getting wound up by reading what the idiots write. They always amuse me with their frantic haste to get a rare/good bird out into the media the second that they've seen it, so that they can have all kind of praise heaped apon them.

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    1. Yes Derek, I do get those simple pleasures that you mention, and yes, I do get wound up. Guilty as charged. But not as wound up as the post may suggest - it is embellished for getting a point across and hopefully some discussion going on the subject.

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  5. Hasn't this always gone on Steve? Just in a different guise. In the local bird report there are observers who note first song of Robin ( always Jan 1), count everything , first dates , last dates , max at this locality or first in 532 visits to this site etc etc. An exercise in self promotion. If Facebook had been around in the 70s or 80s these people would have been using it. PS the first thing I used to do as a teenage birder was count up my initials in that years bird report.

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    1. You're right Mick, but the way in which 'social media' is - at least in my opinion - reducing what is written/said/photographed into repetative sound bites is cause for a little concern. Others clearly see no problem at all. Creativity and originality then becomes compromised.

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  6. Awesome post, Steve!

    Social media-wise I only really use Twitter, and personally I like the fact that it gives countless people a voice that can potentially reach across the globe. Mostly I can pick the ones I want to listen to and tune out those I don't. All good, as far as I'm concerned. 'Soundbite speak' is prevalent though (perhaps encouraged by the 140 character limitation?) so I agree with you there.

    However, I disagree that arousing envy is ever the motive - even subconsciously - of those selfies/group shots/look-what-I'm-eating tweets. Surely just an innocent sharing of happy moments? And yes, when someone trumpets their latest rarity find there is something in me that wants to slap them right back down, and then I remember that life is pretty tough, by and large, and I wouldn't want anybody sloshing cold water all over my own little moments of joy...

    The world around us is changing. Rapidly. We lament some of those changes, embrace others, just as our parents did and our kids will. The rise of social media is one such change. It ain't going away! Therefore, while we still have breath in our lungs and mobility in our arthritic fingers it is our solemn duty to promote a high standard of intelligent, articulate tweetage.

    Oh, and can I just say, 'Digital Coma' - stunning title!

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    1. Well put Gav. My cheap shots at people who are most probably sharing their happy moments are most likely down to my own mean-spirited ones. Maybe I'm a victim of trying to tickle my blog output into life with controversial posts - it might be kinder to keep quiet and stick to pictures of Stonechats and plants!

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    2. And no, I didn't overlook your mischievous use of the words awesome and stunning...

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    3. Keep it up Steve..... your post re Captain Wanker had me laughing out aloud.

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