So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson was moving.  Taking the very real examples of individuals in the past decade who’ve been shamed using social media and exploring the rise of shame culture due to social media and the internet and the effects on our psyche and society, Mr. Ronson brings what can be a distant experience and makes it personal.  I had to flinch a few times considering some of the comments I made about people on Twitter or Facebook.  Granted, I’ve never joined in wanting to kill or rape anyone, but a stone is a stone and throwing it at someone who can’t fight back still makes me guilty.

ShameWhat was serendipitous is that our book club read this book while the Monica Lewinsky TED Talk came out.  We watched it at our recent book club meeting and found that Mr. Ronson and Ms. Lewinsky harmonized in their analysis and suggestions for this shame culture.  The President Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal that rocked the late 90’s was probably the first time that anyone had been shamed so publicly and yet anonymously.  People were being forwarded crude jokes about the two of them and sending them on to their friend groups.  Cartoons and gossip stories swirled on the internet while gossip became truth.  And this was new.  Sure we had talked about people before.  But it was in our homes and in our offices.  But with the internet we can now gossip and say whatever we want to a much wider audience.

And in some ways we have changed our behavior because of it.  I have a Twitter but I have to be careful what I post because as a teacher I’m worried that even with privacy settings students, parents, superintendents who want to get rid of me could find something and construe it how they want.  I’m sure some of you can relate.  We’ve all heard that now-a-days, when you’re looking for a job, you have to clean up or lock up your Facebook because employers want to see what you are like when no one is filtering you.

I highly recommend this book for either a personal read or in a group setting.  Trust me,   you’re going to want to talk about this book either way.

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The Circle

I like social media.  It’s nice to stay connected with my college friends who’ve moved around the country and keep in touch with family I don’t get to see often.  I even get most of my news through social media.  But the one thing that always leaves with a bitter taste in my mouth when it comes to social media is the guilt.  The guilt of how much time I spend perusing it.  And why do I spend so much time?  Because it’s getting smarter and it knows how to keep my attention.  At least that’s my working theory.

the circleThe Circle, by Dave Eggers, takes the future of social media to its logical extreme.  Where those controlling the social media, end up controlling us.  It’s an interesting concept and it begs a lot of questions from readers.  I at first thought it was a little absurd, but the more I read, the more I realized it’s a possibility.  Not that I think it will actually happen, but I acknowledge that it could happen.

In the novel, a young woman, Mae,  goes to work for a fictional high-tech firm similar to Google or Facebook.  There she’s integrated into the culture of sharing and being part of a community.  But not too soon after joining, readers begin to see the dark side of what social media could do to social expectations.

When Mae doesn’t ask enough co-workers to join her Circle account (aka Facebook page), she gets in trouble with HR.  She’s accused of not being social and integrating into the community.  Basically, she’s a team player.  Ultimately, Mae caves for the guilt trip that is heaped upon her and begins a landslide of decisions that take her to the heart of social change due to social media.

The issues that Mae faces seem extreme and far-fetched at first.  The longer I read, however, the more I felt that they weren’t too illogical.  Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but I do see the roots of Egger’s theory already growing in our current social media saturation.  Facebook wants to show the world what I “like” on profile pages.  Why does everyone need to know I like my college professors status? Facebook also keeps asking me what movies and tv shows I like.  Why?  So strangers can “get to know” me more?  If they were really my friends they’d know what I liked.  And many of my friends on Twitter are noticing that certain tweets aren’t even showing up in our feeds.  We have to go to the profile to see them.  And scarily, I realize that my news comes from Twitter.  And who’s to say that Twitter isn’t censoring that news, or promoting news due to corporate sponsorship?

Not that I blame Facebook and Twitter.  They didn’t force me to make an account, but I don’t have to give them what they ask for either.  I like what Mae’s ex-boyfriend says in the book.  That in many countries, people are censored and live in fear because dictators enslave the people.  Yet in the West, we tend to enslave ourselves to things like social media.  How many times have we wondered whether we’ve offended someone by not adding them as a friend on Facebook?  Even if this someone is a person we haven’t seen, spoken to, or heard from, in years?  Why should we feel guilty?  Or how many times have we worried if we should just like a post or if we should like and comment on a post?

Eggers brings up some good questions and while I don’t think his answers will come to fruition, I do believe we should all be aware that social media has its own agenda and we don’t have to buy in.  If we do, it’s on us.