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Russell Wangersky: Knowing what you’re getting into

Windows and the night, Conception Bay North. — Russell Wangersky/SaltWire Network
Windows and the night, Conception Bay North. — Russell Wangersky/SaltWire Network

“Recent years have witnessed the tremendous growth of the online social media. In China, Weibo, a Twitter-like service, has attracted more than 500 million users in less than five years. Connected by online social ties, different users might share similar affective states. We find that the correlation of anger among users is significantly higher than that of joy.”

 

That’s the abstract for a paper published almost exactly four years ago in the academic journal PLOS ONE.

In simple terms, you could describe it using that old saying, “misery loves company.” And Twitter loves misery, too; not sadness, per se, but just plain being miserable, petty and small. Sure, there are uplifting moments across the social media landscape, but take away the boasts and humblebrags and the occasional bright spot that isn’t “Look at my happy vacation,” and the currency is most often bitter.

But imagine if it wasn’t — imagine if the one thing we most wanted to share amongst ourselves online was joy, or if we really did go to social media for inspiration, introspection and the occasional reach for beauty.

Just imagine that these are proto-tweets that never were, thoughts that sprang sideways from a weekend alone and away from electronics, working on a book. (The book work was being done the old way — pen and first draft, making notes for changes.)

Sure, there are uplifting moments across the social media landscape, but take away the boasts and humblebrags and the occasional bright spot that isn’t “Look at my happy vacation,” and the currency is most often bitter.

It is a special storm of cold wind and rain, though not an uncommon one, that pulls quickly past and hauls a great humid tail of warm air and a full moon in behind it.

It’s important to watch the woodstove at the beginning, just after it’s lit. The room isn’t any warmer, but the sight of the flames through the glass of the door sure can convince you it is.

The blueberries have reached a point where appearances are deceiving. They still look full, round and good, but they’ve crossed the line into sweet, mostly tasteless mush and large seeds.

When it’s very, very quiet, very small sounds become so tremendously noisy that it’s hard to sleep. What was that?

New potatoes are a small wonder: I should plant more potatoes. Rows and rows more. My back hurts from digging just a few rows of potatoes.

Talking to yourself means one person is always dominating the conversation.

Opening the back door to a large live moth in the face is equivalent to walking through three spiderwebs.

If you’re outside after dark, even if you’re looking in your own lit windows, it’s hard not to believe that you’re spying on someone else.

When you’re hungry enough, you’re always an excellent cook.

No one should write a book. Damn book — damn stupid book. Burn them all.

You may argue, after reading those samples, that they actually should never have been, that they are naïve or stupid or Pollyanna-ish. You could even take that argument online and give me a few smacks. I hope you will, because, in the process, you’d be proving my point about the necessary abusiveness of the online world, right? Check, and mate.

So, what does it matter?

Well, think of it this way: you wouldn’t go to a debate and expect everyone to just agree. You wouldn’t go to a bar and expect everyone to be enjoying their water and ice cubes. And you wouldn’t go to court and expect no one to be charged with anything.

The best part about scholarship that confirms that social media is primarily a collective nest of miserable old cranks being nasty to each other is that you know what to expect, and can try and protect yourself; don’t walk into the penguin cage with your pockets bulging full of fresh fish.

You’re liable to get pecked.

Govern yourself accordingly.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

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