As mentioned before, many of us now carry smartphones, devices capable of accessing the multitude of social networking sites as well as calling and texting anyone we know.
With this comes a sort of immediacy of communication which really wasn’t possible in years past. This leads to what might be called the unedited life. Posting to the social media websites reflexively in real time with little time taken for reflection.
More traditional news outlets were the first to start the trend. In the US, TV news channels have helicopters circling the major cities looking for things to happen. A car chase might catch their eye and off they go to follow it, broadcasting live without knowing the end. And some have ended, live on air, in tragedy with the participants or bystanders killed.
As distasteful as this was, it was was really only shown live once. The archives of car chases weren’t available to the general public and it may only subsequently appear on “Crazy Cop Chases” type programmes or similar. And then some editing would be done to make sure that it was fine for broadcast.
When social media initially appeared, it was something that had to be done from a fixed computer. Thus any event that occurred to a person would be filtered through the consciousness and sub-conscious before being posted. It was, in newspaper parlance, passed by the sub-editors. What was posted were reflections on what happened rather than the event itself.
Mobile phones allowed calls and text messages to be made immediately and it became a standing joke about text messages sent while drunk at 2am which are a source of some embarrassment the next day. That, however, is only between two people. And usually was lost when deleted to make room for more messages.
With the smartphone revolution, details and even photographs and videos can be created and posted in an instant. This means that the social media posts are now the immediate and often emotional reflex response to an event. People reading the posts reply often in a similar way creating cascades of emotional posting where reason and reflection are left far behind.
And it is no longer between two people. Rather the posts are in effect public for a large audience. And to all intents and purposes, they are there forever.
Take an example where multiple people witness a traffic accident. Videos and photos and reactions are posted in real time as the drama unfolds. Then one of those involved dies. At that point, there is a moment by moment record of the demise of someone’s loved one. A record that is public and searchable.
A newspaper covering the event would take the time to remove any unwanted and upsetting details and while they probably will sensationalise what happened, it will still have been edited for content.
As a population in the west, we are encouraged to be more emotional, more spontaneous and less reflective. But what is the price that we’re paying? Lives and events laid bare for all to see. Perhaps it is time to re-engage the sub-editors of the mind and post calm reflections on our lives rather than a minute by minute breathless stream of updates.