Are We All Drowning In Social Media Streams?
December 15, 2013

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the "stream"? I do, on a near-daily basis. In fact, I've started to limit the time I spend on social media sites because it encourages where we flit from one issue to the next without ever resolving what we left behind. The rocks in the "stream" are buried with more and more until none of it makes sense or matters much anymore.

Alexis C. Madrigal has a terrific article in The Atlantic about how floating in the stream leaves no sense of an ending.

The Stream represents the triumph of reverse-chronology, where importance—above-the-foldness—is based exclusively on nowness.

There are great reasons for why The Stream triumphed. In a world of infinite variety, it's difficult to categorize or even find, especially before a thing has been linked. So time, newness, began to stand in for many other things. And now the Internet's media landscape is like a never-ending store, where everything is free. No matter how hard you sprint for the horizon, it keeps receding. There is always something more.

Nowness also transmits this sense of presence, of other people, that you get in a city when you go to a highway overpass and look down at all the cars at any time of the day or night. Things are happening. I am not alone. Look at all this.

Memory is left behind in that stream of nowness, where what happened a month or a year or even six years ago is simply erased in the maelstrom of here and now.

Madrigal's entire article is excellent, but this is what caught my attention. A less-than-140-character sentence buried in a much larger and more important article:

It is too damn hard to keep up. And most of what's out there is crap.

Also this convicting meditation from one media maker to this media maker:

When the half-life of a post is half a day or less, how much time can media makers put into something? When the time a reader spends on a story is (on the high end) two minutes, how much time should media makers put into something?

The necessity of nowness plus the professionalization of content production for the stream means that there are thousands and thousands of people churning out more crap than can possibly be imagined. And individual consumers of information have been tuned by social-media feedback mechanisms (Likes!) to do for free what other people do for money. They, too, write viral headlines, post clickbait, and compete for mindshare.

I am not joking when I say: it is easier to read Ulysses than it is to read the Internet. Because at least Ulysses has an end, an edge. Ulysses can be finished. The Internet is never finished.

I struggle with this all the time. How to write something fresh on the same subject over and over again. How to make the words I slap into this electronic space matter? How to condense complex ideas into the requisite three paragraphs that studies tell us people read before they give up and get swept into the next "now"?

Madrigal correctly notes that The Stream is now being managed by Facebook and Google algorithms that decide what is worth your attention and time, or sites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy who boil complex issues into listicles which carry a viral payload in their beginning, middle and end because "they are rocks in the stream which you can stand on to catch your breath."

Woe to the media maker who doesn't fit the Google-Facebook-Twitter algorithm. They are truly the end of the Internet.

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