Shortly after I joined twitter, the post-election protests in Iran were a hot topic among the television crowd I followed. It was disconcerting, not to read the snippets of TV criticism and fan squealing amid such seriousness, but to read the seriousness amid the fluff. 140 characters doesn’t give a lot of room for profound thought, so a good percentage of my Twitter stream came off as trite but well-meaning.
Still, as the platform has matured and I’ve settled into my comfort zone with it, there’s generally a nice balance of serious discussion and frivolity I find less jarring, now.
So between Tweets, Facebook status updates, and longwinded blog posts, a lot of pixels have been dedicated to my thoughts, both serious and frivolous. As with all but the most oversharey of us, those online thoughts represent a fraction of what goes on in my little head. That’s partly because even I don’t care about every thought that goes through my brain, partly because I value my privacy and the privacy of my friends and family.
Reading my online output, I think you get a decent sense of my personality, an occasional glimpse of what’s going on in my life, but a poor sense of my daily joys and worries … which is true of most people, I’d guess.
I didn’t post about Amy Winehouse’s death, though I’m a fan of her music, and had feared her final self-destruction, and was saddened to hear that she didn’t manage to finally overcome her demons.
I also didn’t post about the mass murder in Norway because I had nothing to add to that discussion beyond what everyone felt: I was horrified. Duh. None of my friends are looking to me for that great insight into current affairs, none of my friends are in Norway, and I don’t believe in sending nebulous “good vibes” via Internet so all discussions I had were offline. I don’t need to prove I know or care about world events via Facebook status update.
But I know people who posted about both, or only Winehouse, and got slammed for caring about the dead artist instead of the dead Norwegians. My Twitter stream was full of Winehouse < Norway comments. [pullquote] If you think addicts who don’t turn their lives around by 27 don’t deserve to be mourned, you do not hold the moral high ground.[/pullquote]
Which brings me to my point, finally: what kind of messed up thinking is it to believe we have to prove the depth of our feeling through a social media status update? Or that we have to rate tragedies and only care about the top one percent (as determined by … who?). How limited are we if we’re not capable of caring about both Norway and Winehouse? And why was Norway being held up as the gold standard of what people are supposed to care about?
I did post about the Canadian government’s decision to match donations to charities who are helping with famine relief in East Africa, an announcement that came a couple of days after the UN declared the famine and the same day as the Norway massacre. I don’t think everyone has a duty to give to any one specific cause, but in a period of feeling helpless about horrible news coming from so many sides, it made me feel better to take action. I know many people hadn’t heard about the extent of the crisis, or what our government is doing, or what we can do to help. You could tell me you have no interest in donating and I wouldn’t think less of you, but I’m glad you had the chance to evaluate where that cause fits in your list. There are so many things in the world we could choose to care about and do something about, but we have to pick or be overwhelmed with the choice.
Because I posted about Somalia and not Norway doesn’t mean I care more about Somalia, any more than posting about my cats means I care more about my cats than my friend struggling with a degenerative disease. It means I found it easier to form a coherent thought about Somalia over Norway, and that other people covered everything there was to say about Norway before I could and better than I could.
People posting about Amy Winehouse don’t necessarily care about her over, say, their friend who’s struggling with addiction, but maybe they aren’t airing their friend’s personal issues to everyone in their social media networks. Maybe Amy Winehouse is an artist whose work affected them personally and they want an outlet to express their grief. Maybe we feel a more personal connection to an artist whose work touches us than we do to the faceless victims of a massacre or famine.
If people think that’s wrong, then I’d like to hear their explanation of the purpose of art. Maybe they don’t care about talents like Cobain, Hendrix, Joplin, River Phoenix, Amy Winehouse dying so young, the waste of so much potential to addiction and the high price of fame, but why diminish others’ grief?
There was in most of the admonishments a whiff-to-a-stench of the sanctimonious, not just in judging those who were grieving Winehouse, but in judging Winehouse herself. To them, I’d say: if you think addicts who don’t turn their lives around by 27 don’t deserve to be mourned, you do not hold the moral high ground. Not every thought deserves to be posted via social media, and maybe criticizing other people’s grief is an example.