Saturday, January 18, 2014

The end of the TMI era

It's here.  It probably passed us some time ago and we didn't notice.  Via Balloon Juice, this +1.

In the age of social media, when cell phones come with camera lenses optimized for selfies, that last question ("Is there such a thing as TMI on the Web?") gets asked regularly. So I am going to answer it, once and for all: No. There is no such thing as TMI on the Internet. We are living in a post-TMI age, and everyone needs to deal with it. Preferably by using the “unfollow” button.

There is such a thing as too much information for you. There is such a thing as information the speaker will later regret. But if an audience is willingly and pleasurably consuming the information, then by definition, that is the right amount of information for them. Assuming the information in question is yours to share — your life, your ideas, your stories, your pictures, your theories about elf genealogy in Lord of the Rings — you cannot share too much of it. There are no captive audiences on the Internet. Whereas discussing your sex life at the Thanksgiving dinner table may be TMI for Grandma, discussing your sex life online does not necessitate Grandma’s participation. If you follow someone on Twitter and you find that her tweets are too much for you, then you may unfollow her. If you continually recoil at TMI, it's because you lack the willpower to stop consuming (or foresight to avoid) the information in question. That’s your fault.

I spend far too much time reading the "letters to the editor" of the modern age, which include comments to stories in the digital newspaper, e-zine articles, blogs, and Facebook responses to the news of the day.  I want to know what people are thinking, and by 'people' I mean all walks of life and all persuasions.  I have a particular fascination with the conservative mindset, in a monkeys-flinging-their-poo kind of way.  And among the reasons I sample the vast public discourse -- particularly the discourse with which I disagree, not to mention the disagreeable -- is to perform a routine diagnostic on my own points of view.  Because too much agreeable opinion (as everyone who has dealt with someone who only watches Fox News clearly understands) tends to warp one's own beliefs.  That's how truth becomes truism, and in turns devolves into truthiness.  But back to what to do about stuff you see online if you don't like it.

Modern media consumption — particularly digital media consumption — is personalized. This is sometimes to our detriment; it is very easy to surround yourself with the voices of only those who agree with you. As consumers of social media, we are all the programmers of our own personal line-ups, featuring a hand-selected set of soap operas, news sources, and other amusements. If a particular soap opera becomes boring, you click “unfollow” — or maybe you hate it so much that you block it. You can download browser extensions that will turn words you do not want to see into a big black bars, or prevent you from loading web pages that contain material that offends. For instance, if I never want to see or think about Bill or Emma Keller, I could install a content filter like Blocksi and set it to block or limit the amount of time I spend on web pages where the term Keller appears. Or I could set it simply to warn me about incoming Kellers, so that I can summon a third party to preview the material for me.

You can take charge of that which offends you, if you are capable of managing the technology.  Or you can just scroll past it.

Rule 34 of the Internet states, “If something exists, there is porn of it. No exceptions.” Embedded in this joking wisdom is a profound statement about taste. If one person likes something enough to imagine, desire, or create it, then somewhere in this wide world of ours, another person feels the same way. In the age of micro-audience — when everyone is famous not for fifteen minutes, but to fifteen people — there is a consumer for everything. No exceptions. Even if the audience is merely the creator himself, gazing at his own selfies for hours on end like Narcissus falling into a pool of glowing computer screen — if he is @MrPimpGoodGame — that is still an acceptable use of the Internet. Embarrassing, perhaps. Awkward, alienating, depressing, enlightening, inspiring, boring — any emotional reaction is possible. But no self-expression on the Internet can be categorically too much, because to someone, that artifact of human existence is just right.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when this would have been funny, all the way through to #36, but after a decade-and-a half or so of Web-soaked narcissim and exibitionist behavior, now it's just pathetic after about the fourth one.  But the only real problem is that you looked at all of them and then felt bad after doing so.  (Incest has always existed; incest and Instagram is the new wrinkle.)  Next time -- and especially if you think it might bother you -- just don't look.

Back in the day before there was an Internet, we used to have a saying: if you don't like what's on TV, then change the channel or turn it off.  I would extend that today to include: if you object to gay marriage or abortion, then don't have one.

But please stop asking, "why is this news?"  Because that just makes you look ignorant.

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