On social media and their effects on writing

social media


I think it’s wonderful to have all my friends an acquaintances easily reachable online, all the time, anywhere. Social media and internet services in general are excellent for this purpose. Google Contacts is truly a revolution compared to what copying contacts on SIM-cards used to be like – names got mangled, contacts got lost, numbers disappeared whenever you lost or switched phones etc.

Facebook is fantastic for keeping track of people’s birthdays and their relationships. Instagram is great if you need to know what your friends eat for lunch, or what their pets look like. Twitter is excellent for spreading the word about anything – in a slightly chaotic, hard to sift through fashion, but highly efficient and with good reach for little effort. All of the information is online, somewhere, no matter where you are or what device you are on.

The services I mentioned above (which are but a handful of what’s available, I know, but I think they cover the basics) are wonderful, highly focused and have clear profiles, audiences and scenarios for use. Although people sometimes make up new ways to use these services, most users do the same kind of things in the same ways on each service.

So, what’s the problem?

The problems – content wise – as I see them begin here. Every time you tweet you are highly conscious of the fact that this is a short message you are writing, one that is going to be read quickly before it self destructs, and it will probably not be saved for posterity. It might even get lost in the flood of text your followers are sifting through.

Every time you post on Facebook you know, more or less, who will receive the message and in some cases even who will like it or comment it. You might even target your text with a name or a few tags. Most texts here are short as well, some lengthy – but they are probably less likely to get read since not everyone has the time to read everything that scrolls by.

On Instagram you are lucky if anyone reads anything you write, and if someone comments on your post I would rather call them up than keep “chatting” in the comment box, since it is inefficient and, like tweets, disappears in the flow of information. This forces you to write short, focused texts or blurbs, with a clear sight on who is receiving it and how they are likely to react. Kind of like an email, but also like putting a note on a billboard where you know most of the people who stop to read.

If you were instead writing a poem, an essay, or even a book, you would spend a lot of time thinking on word choices, possible recipients (but with less certainty), how the text will age in the years to come and who, if anyone, is going to publish it. On social media you already have a “contract” with your publisher, and the terms are rather clear. If you write a text because you are interested in writing a text for the sake of writing, things such as publishing, sharing, audience and reception come later. These factors may be on your mind, but you have less control of them and they – possibly – have less influence on your writing.

Enter blogging!

Or, rather, hello again blogging! (It’s been around for a while, and is not really a new thing anymore, but I think it still has something going for it). When blogging you have a better view of who your audience might be than when you are writing a book/text/poem/etc, but still not quite in the way you would on social media. You also have complete and total freedom concerning layout, using images, formatting text and the length and format of your text. One line is sufficient. An image and a comment is a post. Two thousand words on Hegel and Kant are equally valid, and – depending on your blog’s focus and readership – equally likely to meet its audience.

This is exciting to me! With the abundance of cheap hosting available today, the great blogging platforms available (WordPress among others), the quality of free themes, the spell checkers you can get for free and the speed of internet connections in many areas of the world, anyone wanting to write and “publish” – i.e. have their text potentially read by others in a nicer format than an email or a text file – are not only free to do so, but have all the tools they need (just add time and ambition). In this scenario the social media are most useful as channels for information gathering or for researching opinions, and of course as marketing channels.

What is the problem anyway?

Among the problems I mentioned earlier is the fact that information – images, text, etc – is spread all over the internet in many different formats and forums. If an aspiring writer tweets a lot about football and writing, Facebooks a lot about entertainment and politics, Instagrams a lot about sunsets and dogs and emails and chats a lot about books and writing, there is no clear picture of who this person is or what she/he wants to say. If you look at the person from one angle (or channel) one picture appears, from another a different person seems to emanate. Maybe some angles are less favourable than others, and there is no moderated and distilled summary of what this person truly says or sounds like.

And then?

If this person were to express oneself in a blog format, would these problems disappear? Not really, but maybe – just maybe – the person writing would be able to have an outlet where it could express itself in a comfortable way, almost like writing for real, but also quite close to writing focused posts hoping for likes or retweets. Maybe it all works in unison after all, maybe being forced to write and compose text in different formats and under different requirements truly makes one a better writer, or at least enables one to think through opinions and beliefs in different situations. But still the moderated aggregate of a person’s output seems to be missing, or at least is not clearly visible, and perhaps that is a good thing? At least I know I act and speak differently in different media – I don’t post the same things on Twitter as on Facebook, and I don’t have the same followers or follow the same people over all social media. I write text messages to close relatives in a different manner than I write comments on a colleagues’ Instagram posts.

So maybe this was all for naught? Maybe there is no real problem at the heart of this issue? Maybe we should all be allowed our freedom of expression in different settings, and not be under scrutiny as a composite entity all the time?

Well, at least I got to write a bit about it, and this is my voice here.

Leave a Reply