The Rise of Confessional Media
By Jeff Goins
April 23, 2012
I had lunch the other day with a friend who works as the Internet marketing director for a multimillion dollar company. She told me something that surprised me: "I can't stand social media."
"It's narcissism," she continued, "and I don't get it." I nodded, swallowing hard, resisting the urge to check Twitter on my phone.
When someone who makes her living off the web disses the fastest-growing platform in the history of communication, it doesn't make sense. And yet, I had to agree with her.
An age of distraction
Every day we are surrounded by messages. For any millennial, this has been a lifelong reality. We grew up in the post-advertising age, when commercials were as abundant as Saturday morning cartoons.
With increased competition for consumers’ attention came market saturation, and we are now living in the aftermath. The most over-marketed-to generation in history is now cynical and jaded.
Everywhere you turn, there is someone vying for attention. From the airport to the hair salon to the device on which you're reading this, someone is trying to persuade people to buy something. And in a time when messages can no longer be trusted, we have been forced to filter everything.
So how do we, the children of the Information Age, survive? We ignore. Whether it's because of the pile of unsolicited email messages you get or the ads popping up before your turn on DrawSomething, you just begin to tune it out.
But with the Internet and the emergence of social media, there is anew kind of noise pollution. Instead of the ever-present marketer, now it's the constant presence of each other.
A new form of SPAM
Social media is an amazing tool. Bloggers like Seth Godin and publications like the Huffington Post have clearly learned how to leverage this tool and create a tremendous amount of influence. There is power to a medium that fully empowers people who are used to being the audience.
Founder of Thought Catalog Chris Lavergne says it like this: “Is reading about someone’s difficulty overcoming alcoholism or particular tale of heartbreak news? Maybe not. But then again: why not? It’s not just the regurgitation of a press release. It’s a raw document of something happening in the world. It gives us perspective on life in some way. And perhaps even articulates a certain segment of a zeitgeist."
But at some point we cross a line with this “confessional media.” Consider the following:
A college student posts a passive-aggressive update on Facebook about her roommate.
A teenage boy shares on YouTube a video about all the health violations he just committed at the restaurant where he works.
A blogger writes about waxing his genitals.
When the means become the end, we are in trouble. Our tweets and posts go from individualized media to meaningless drivel. As the noise increases, it becomes harder for readers and viewers to discern what's really worth their time. Pretty soon, because we have no choice, we just start tuning it all out.
This enters the faith sector, too—maybe especially. Whether it's a pastor trying to be "authentic" on their blog by giving too much information about their personal life or a Christian celebrity confessing a major struggle via a live web feed, we have to wonder: Is this a good thing?
Historically, the Church has always benefited from the discipline of confession. But when we take the sanctity of private prayer or one-on-one dialogue and publicize it, does it lose value?
The digital land of the free?
Although Pew Research Center denies social media drives the news, it’s obviously taking over ourlives. Users are now spending 14 times the amount of time onFacebook as they are on traditional news sites. Whether we admit it ornot, our focus on information is shifting.
But to whom does information belong? And how do we regulate it?
For the most part, as a writer, I love the Internet. And I celebrate social media. This connection tool allows us to connect with an audience of thousands of people we never would have met otherwise.
The social web launches music careers, like that of Justin Bieber (which may or may not be a good thing, depending on whom you ask), and causes powerful ideas like "Kony 2012" to spread.
But eventually, volume becomes a problem. With the 7 billion visits Facebook received last month (March 2012), the 182 million voices on Twitter, and the 104 million pairs of eyeballs on Pinterest, it gets to be a bit much.
The ability to communicate does not always mean one should. In a time of absolute freedom of speech on the web—where someone can share anything, from their naked body to what they ate for lunch—those who want their messages to matter will have to censor themselves. As traditional media slowly goes the way of the dinosaur, self-constraint will become ever more important. The alternative is a lot of talking heads and rants overcrowding what used to be well-respected news channels.
As much as people posting ridiculous things on the Internet is annoying, I love the fact that they can. Because the same technology a friend can use to let me know about a good new restaurant is revolutionizing countries like Egypt.
Soon, the online community has to find a way to become its own watchdog or it will acquiesce to irrelevance. In the meantime, it's best to watch what we say—so that when we speak up, it will actually matter.