Fun with Social Media
Relax, Dive In and Enjoy the Swim
Although researchers (including MIT professor Sherry Turkle in three books and a widely debated New York Times commentary) have aired numerous concerns about our increasing isolation and narcissism in the age of social media, many (mostly young) people understand the inherent power of these platforms to foster connections through creativity.
These imaginative users don’t take any social medium too seriously. They’re not afraid to use Facebook in unconventional, often humorous ways: setting up profiles for mascots like Pitzer College‘s Cecil Sagehen (who has several unofficial profiles, probably created by students), adopting aliases like Gila Monsta or Snow Monkey, graduating from schools like the University of Life and creating whole families of alternating friends whom they marry (both same-sex and “traditionally”), enter into “relationships” with and split up with on a whim. (After all, what self-respecting 12-20 something wants to hang out with their parents or explain their fluid relationships online?)
Not surprisingly, there’s a whole group of creative geeks, many of them writers, who’ve embraced social media as another way to experiment with creative communication. Some of my favorite seabirds (aka Tweeters) are literary types posing as dead writers. I get my pioneer beauty tips from @halfpintIngalls (Laura Ingalls Wilder), suggestive lines of verse from @tweetsofgrass (Walt Whitman), seafaring topical commentary from @hermy_melville (Herman Melville) and mangled Middle English from @LeVostreGC (Chaucer Doth Tweet).
Keremit the Frogge: ‘Tis a thinge of difficultee to be of a verdant hewe.
— Chaucer Doth Tweet (@LeVostreGC) February 11, 2013
Although one expert wisely observed that many of the dead writers tweeting today probably shouldn’t (given Emily Dickinson’s reclusive nature, for example, her alter ego probably doesn’t belong on Twitter), they have enduring life on the internet because so many readers still love the true authors’ works. On the internet, masters of wit like Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde have become megastars, with countless fan pages and parody sources.
How come I don’t have 1000 followers – I’m EMILY DICKINSON for Pete’s sake. — Emily Dickinson (@EmilySecretLife) January 15, 2013
For example, according to Uncyclopedia, the ”content-free” alternative to Wikipedia, ”Mark (‘Marky Mark’) Twain…was the real name of author Samuel F. H. “Fog Horn” Clementine Clemens. Twain is often called ‘The Straight, American Oscar Wilde.’” This bible of balderdash goes on to describe Twain’s storied life in stand-up style, right down to the list of his published works. (“Insolents Abroad” is my favorite.) No one would be more amused than Twain himself, who (sincerely) said, “Humor is the good-natured side of a truth.”
Uncyclopedia’s editors had more trouble with Wilde’s nonsense biography because they were admittedly too smitten with the dashing Irishman, revealing in their discussion their “obsession with Oscar Wilde and his stupendously witty quotes.” They add, “It is easy to find Oscar Wilde quotes, largely due to the national sport of England, which is ‘Making Up Oscar Wilde Quotes.’” Wilde himself probably would have approved of the Uncyclopedia. As he once wrote, ”It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information.”
Both Twain and Wilde navigated rough waters in their lives (in Twain’s case, the death of a daughter followed by those of his wife and a second daughter and subsequent periods of deep depression; in Wilde’s, arrest on charges of indecency, imprisonment and hard labor, social ostracism and poverty). Still, they will always be remembered for their ability to laugh at society and themselves. Their unsinkable spirits buoyed Gold Boat Journey’s mead-quaffing, Viking-cheering shadow captain, Brendan Wayfarer as he dipped his toes into the social media sea.
Like Twain and Wilde, creative renegades on the internet are not sanctioned by any official person or institution. They’re having wicked (read, subversive) and witty fun that their followers get to share. But maybe these rebels understand the very point researchers like Turkle are trying to make: Technology is only a problem if you let it control you. As long as you don’t take it, or its conventions, too seriously, it can be means to real dialogue and connections across artificial demographic and geographic borders, a way for creative introverts to let their freak flags fly. As the saying goes, “If you are too busy to laugh, you are too busy.” Cheers!Ellen Girardeau Kempler, All rights Reserved. Written For: Gold Boat Journeys