Sonya Song recently detailed the differences between impersonal, quickly-digested content and content that takes deeper thinking to understand in an article for Nieman Lab. She discusses how links with “BREAKING” in them get more attention, but not more engagement, and how certain language and styles are more conversational and thus engage more people. The title of her piece concisely defines this distinction: “sharing fast and sharing slow.” Under the umbrella of fast sharing fall lolcats, BREAKING NEWS, and other content that, like clickbait Buzzfeed headlines, attract unconscious attention but little else. Song argues that the category of slow sharing is composed of more human, direct, conversational content that requires more than a fleeting glance and offers more than a brief smile or moment of shock.
Given Facebook’s recent decision to privilege “high-quality” posts and news over mems and clickbait, it appears Song isn’t the only one thinking in terms of fast and slow sharing. These terms should resonate with anyone who has been frustrated with newsfeeds and timelines full of “listicles,” lolcats, sensationally inaccurate headlines, and doges. So content. Much traffic. Get this off my Facebook feed.
Perhaps it’s time to have a discussion, as much as we can have one on existing platforms, about what we expect out of one another when it comes to sharing content. We subtly define the limits and direction of conversations we have on the physical realm—no one wants to talk in hashtags or about kittens all the time—so why can’t we do the same online? In his 1844 manuscripts, Marx argues that money has become the mediator of all human interactions, with other humans and the world itself. The rest of Marx’s ideology aside, that point should resonate with anyone who has lamented the state of the world or been told to follow their passion rather than high earnings. Fast sharing has taken on a similar role. One meme is exchangeable for another, and hashtags blur the tone of different remarks into a sarcastic grey or self-promoting beige. Just as for Marx capital has estranged human beings from one another, fast sharing estranged us from our friends by subsuming meaningful conversation.
But Song’s article doesn’t leave us feeling all gloom-and-doom. She posits an alternative: slow sharing. In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974), Robert Pirsig writes “The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of the mountain, or in the petals of a flower. To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha—which is to demean oneself.” That is, holiness, humanity, reality, can be found in Facebook just as much as it can in the physical realm. It’s just a matter of recognizing how to use the medium properly. “Real life,” after all, can be a shallow cocktail mixer or a heartfelt one-on-one conversation.
Rather than spend all our time lamenting the deleterious effects of Facebook et al. on our social lives, we should look for ways to share slow, to establish meaningful connections and have real conversations with other human beings. At Switchboard, we’re trying to move away from pessimistic outlooks on social media and toward a workable solution. Where Facebook gives us an opportunity to tell our friends we “like” what they have to say, we hope Switchboard is a space to say, “I care.”