Friday, May 8, 2015

[Blog Buddies] Minnesota Humanities Center: "Social media imitates life"

After partnering with the Minnesota Humanities Center to publish my children's book, Linh and the Red Envelope, I'm excited to have recently joined their board of directors. I was invited to reflect on the question: "How can the humanities help illuminate the mixed blessing of social media that permeates the lives of most Minnesotans?" See below and MHC blog for my response: "Social media imitates life."

Diane Tran is a Senior Project Manager at Grassroots Solutions, a national consulting firm specializing in grassroots strategy, organizing, training, and evaluation. Diane serves on the boards of the Minnesota Humanities Center and Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, and is Immediate Past Chair of the board of directors for the Citizens League. She earned a self-designed bachelor’s degree in International Social Policy with a double major in Humanities at The College of Saint Scholastica in Duluth, MN. Diane is the author of the children's book, Linh and the Red Envelope, and the founder of Minnesota Rising, a statewide network of emerging leaders.

Social media is in the eye of the beholder.

The Good. For my part, social media has provided a plethora of benefits, including: offering a ready way to keep in touch with friends and apprised of happenings in their lives, facilitating my cousin’s purchase of a used snowboard to carve the slopes in Minnesota wintertime, and making it possible for my husband to recruit micro-investors when he published his National Book Award-winning essays. Social media serves as a handy resource for real-time news and activism as well as to make family members living far away feel just a bit closer. Best yet, having access to the insights and journeys of others who have walked similar paths to mine has helped me to feel a sense of #community when I’ve at times felt like the only one in my shoes.

The Bad. Conversely, while our society is still only just beginning to understand the implications of integrating technology and social media into every aspect of our daily lives, it’s not without growing pains. Social media results in anonymous hatefulness in the comments section, unchecked prejudice and oppression swiftly escalating into blame and judgment, and haphazardly introduces items into your newsfeed that you unfortunately can never un-see or un-know. Moreover, the avalanche of items from myriad inboxes and channels and mediums overwhelms the senses. On more than one occasion, I have turned away from my device and wondered how many unarticulated emotions and unexpressed thoughts I’d had in response to the 50 or so items I’d quickly skimmed past in the last 5 minutes. The heightened level of distraction and externalization can cause one, if only momentarily, to lose oneself.

The Humanity. Social media imitates life. In many ways, the power dynamics and structures that govern our offline cultures resemble the world we create online. The grammar and spelling police pat themselves on the back for their “professionalism” in crafting perceived ‘winning’ comments in online disputes. Businesses and organizations with means are able to invest more in social media campaigns and staff than those who are under-resourced, further perpetuating the disparity between the “haves” and “have-nots” in a world where you don’t exist if you’re not on the internet.

As such, social media is a helpful case study for understanding who is seen, who is represented, and how. While it has further democratized who has a mouthpiece or can exert influence, social media still mimics the mainstream media in the unquestioned and stereotypical narratives that can underlie the creators and consumers of content. For this reason, it is important to continually inquire into the biases and assumptions we all carry around with us, particularly as we consider that we’re contributing to a large and lasting digital footprint.

For all that has been made of social media, what is clear is that it is precisely what we make of it. We--experiencing the human condition--use it to do what it is that we do. That is, to tell stories, present our ideas, connect with one another, share our victories, lament our challenges, and express who we are. May we continue to use our evolving technological tools and social media to ensure equal voice, to value each other’s stories and experiences, and, to help all of us feel connected to, and part of, a larger community. 

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