Social media has been around for some time now. It’s brought many changes in the way we inhabit our social world, in the way we communicate with others, on what being a friend means and on how we get back in touch with people. We find out about what’s going on in people’s lives on a regular basis without actually knowing them much on these platforms.
How do we manage to do this?
We write on social media through the day and read up on others. (I’m only considering that part of social media that we use for personal use such as Facebook and Twitter, not ones where we write on public forums or platforms we use for work purposes).
On social media, writing is expression and writing is communication. Writing is conversation. Writing is also advertising ourselves and creating images of ourselves that we think others will like (on our personal profiles).
Most of the writing we do on social media serves a purpose. It either conveys some information (where will we meet? where was the picture taken?) or greets people (Happy Birthday etc.) or aims to be witty in some way, the humour sometimes a means of self-advertisement. As in advertisements, most writing is happy and upbeat, the rare depressed update a source of embarrassment for the writer later.
Most such writing only skims the surface of subjects as a result. It’s pared down to the bare bones, sans articles, sans verbs if possible, typed while doing something else perhaps on a Smartphone.
One wonders how writing will change as a result of this sticky-note mode of communication on social media (where all the sticky-notes are public, of course.).
This writing is very short, topical, of the moment, with only a second or so of thought behind it. It’s aware of being public and yet, can be private at the same time clearly communicating between two people. Here, alphabets are often repeated for emphasis rather than varying one’s vocabulary for effect (must have been funnnnn, happyyyyyyy cruising etc.)
But as writers, can we mine social media for ideas?
What can we learn?
It’s easy to dismiss social media as a “lowbrow” form of communication that can only harm us. That’s foolish in my opinion. Something that has become so pervasive will certainly change the way we think, communicate and write soon.
So I think it’s important to ask ourselves what we can learn about writing from social media.
Brevity: Expressing ourselves in very brief sentences or sentence fragments is the obvious first way. But there are others.
Topics: Social media provides a record of a plethora of experiences of people we know or semi-know, their conversations with one another, their lives, their pictures frozen in time. So many topics to write about (after rendering their identities unrecognizable of course).
Character: The characters we project on social media aren’t quite the same as our “real” personalities but they are people all the same. They are people who we think others will like. They are a little bit of fiction. So many people to observe. So much “raw data.” When long-lost friends contact us on social media, we are often flabbergasted by the changes in their appearance, personalities and values. Opportunity for character development.
Audience: People react in different ways to the same snippet of writing on status updates. Their reactions get recorded as comments that can be revisited later. Going through these with a careful eye can tell us a lot about audience and context.
Record of memories/ events: Our own and other people’s lives get recorded with an immediacy on Facebook and Twitter in a way we have never seen before. This has to be a goldmine for writers with imagination (as it can be a source of embarrassment).
Social media is a world by itself and where there is a world, there is an opportunity for writing!
[Thank you for all your comments on my two preceding posts. I’ll respond individually soon.]