There is an awkward period every day when I settle in to engage in the social media effort that is part of every commercial venture, FORGING magazine being no exception. The “social” milieu is not simply artificial or inauthentic. It is an invalidation of the order I have long assumed existed in society, or in fact in civilization. Even the label “social” is inapt if one correlates that term with “society”, suggesting a population organized by tradition, regulation, and individuals’ self-respect.
In the social media universe, those assumptions are nullified. Everything is out of proportion: corporations speak with the voice and affectation of individuals, and individuals claim the authority once associated with consensus and/or experience. There is no reverence for anyone who “in real life” may be entrusted with responsibility, nor for anyone whose personal circumstance might engender admiration or sympathy. Anonymity displaces authenticity. Fame and infamy are interchangeable, and volume supersedes clarity. Brusqueness serves as eloquence, and profanity functions as sincerity. And there are no serious consequences for incivility or duplicity, or any of the other impulsive behaviors that are so ordinary online.
Why are the rules inapplicable there? The simple and obvious answer is that technology makes it possible — technology that is personal and immediate. It makes it possible to act without thinking, without considering consequences. Velocity beats strategy.
But the technological conclusion is incomplete because it’s not quite right that there are no rules or tactics in the social media universe. Impulse rules there – not patience nor prudence, nor equanimity, nor perseverance. The high-tech “space” is a realm defined by the basest aspects of human nature, and those different rules are changing how individuals behave “in real life,” in the civilization we continue to inhabit.
It should be noted that we live and mostly prosper in a remarkable era – an age of instantaneity. That’s one feature of the social media milieu that is paralleled in real life. We believe everything can be acquired, with the right investment or the right influence. We believe it because lived experience proves it’s true. Every interaction we have is a transaction, valid for as long as either party is complicit. We do what we want, we take what advantages we can, and we do not apologize.
The strain of this civil chaos is so widely apparent that it needs no recollection here – but if you wonder what I mean consider the behavior of people elected or appointed to high offices who care not how crude they sound or how selfish and crass they appear. Or note the indifference shown by businesses to customers or stakeholders — airlines to ticketholders for example, though the examples like this are widely available.
But our roaring economy faces a trial, one that may test the utility of a world without regulations. Employment numbers seem to be cresting, and stocks are sputtering on the growing expectation of a trade war with China. The trade war is now a currency war, with serious economic risks for businesses and individuals alike
The bet being run by the implementation of tariffs is that businesses and consumers will “unlike” some sources and “like” new ones, that the new supplies will be available and reliable. But suppose the negative response from the “muted” Chinese contacts will be not just uncivil but consequential — with currency manipulation and intellectual property theft just two of the most obvious reactions. How will we behave when such impulsive behaviors are played out in real life? The instant reaction is not encouraging.