What are we to make of Taylor Lorenz condemning those who challenge her views on social media as universally hateful (to the point of causing her PTSD) while almost simultaneously “outing” the semi-anonymous Libs of TikTok account’s owner? Taylor Lorenz is a hypocrite.
While this seems evident from the outside, I’m not certain Ms. Lorenz would see herself this way. There is some single underlying standard used to justify the apparent hypocrisy of every apparent double standard. For Ms. Lorenz, the underlying standard is probably this: progressives progress and conservatives don’t; progress is good; progressives are good, conservatives are evil.
She probably doesn’t think a lot about whether all progress is always good or the ends always justify the means. From outside appearances, her worldview is simple, direct, and fully justifies two apparently contradictory actions.
But how can we explain the depth of her emotion? Ms. Lorenz believes she is subject to so much online hate that she has developed PTSD. She shows us the depth of her belief (and hurt) by crying and describing her experiences using deep, emotional language.
She also really believes the Libs of TikTok account plumbs the depths of evil. Ms. Lorenz describes the account in extreme terms — “people will die if you expose what they’re saying online!” — never mind the inherent self-contradiction.
Exploring the depth of her contradictory beliefs can tell us much about how social media impacts civil society.
Neil Postman argued each media resonates with some end. Books, for instance, resonate with telling a story, while television and movies resonate with entertaining. Just because each media type has a resonance doesn’t mean you can only write books to tell a story or a television show to entertain, but rather how books and television excel. Creators desiring engagement should embrace this resonance.
If you want book readers to absorb your arguments, embed them in a story. If you want television watchers to absorb your arguments, entertain them.
Thus, all books tend toward a narrative “flow,” if not a narrative format. God presents Judaism and Christianity using stories of his interaction with man. The Gospels are narratives.
On the other hand, all long-form video, like television, tends toward entertainment. Preachers present Christianity religious beliefs as entertainment on television (hence the popularity of televangelists on television, light on intellectual content and heavy on emotional engagement).
We tolerate a lot when it comes to “giving in” to the resonance of a given media type. For movies and television, we easily suspend disbelief (supermodel-shaped women beating up well-toned and trained professional fighting men, for instance) so long as the overall arch is entertaining. When reading a book, we allow the twist to fit into the story — another form of suspending disbelief.
What is the resonance of social media? Performance.
Books put the performer behind the page, and television puts performers behind the screen. Social media makes everyone a performer all the time. Writers perform when writing; actors perform when in front of a camera. Social media extends the performance to every moment of your life.
Your cat jumping a funny way, your dinner, your friend falling on the stairs were once moments to enjoy. Now they are performances to share. It’s not essential whether the performance is entertaining,only that it’s engaging and authentic. Authentic, in turn, often means extreme — extreme danger, extreme tears, extreme cuteness, etc.
Returning to Ms. Lorenz, her performance must be engaging and authentic to gain a hearing. Average pain levels will not engage her audience; the hurt must be soul-deep and pose an existential threat to her very existence.
People challenging progressive ideas on social media must be evil and hateful, expressed in tears and equated to the results of physical combat. People exposing the beliefs of those she agrees with must also be evil and hateful expressed in rage and equated to the results of physical combat. Both extremes are engaging performances; they must be extreme and authentic.
There is, of course, nothing governments can do to regulate human behavior at this level. You cannot pass a “no performing law.” Nor can we count on social media companies to dampen the performance level. Performances get attention; social media companies thrive on attention.
There is a lot we can do as individual users, however.
We all perform in one way or another — a résumé, CV, and LinkedIn profile are all performances. Don’t let the performance become your life. Engage with real people, face to face, in real community organizations. Go to church. Read a book. Be present in the real world.
Don’t reward extreme performances. Don’t give the performer your attention; don’t be a part of their audience. Even trolling is attention, and performers crave attention.
Social media is a performer’s paradise. Just don’t do it.
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