December 18th, 2012
“Live in your world!” is something one my high-school teachers–the music teacher, oddly enough–used to exhort us. What she meant was that to truly inhabit the world, you need to know and at least attempt to understand it. She would use this sentence when we seemed too grossly ignorant of current events–the events of our world.
At the time, I could nod sagely, because I was a pretty well-informed kid. Of course, no one actually lives in the world–we all live in our houses, and my parents’ house was (and is) one of information. While I lived there, I absorbed news because it played on the radio and television several times a day and there were always newspapers and magazines underfoot, sometimes literally. There were also books and books and books, and usually someone available to explain whatever I didn’t understand.
Then I moved out on my own, and I discovered a key way I am not like my parents–I feel no drive to be well-informed. If you tell me things, I’ll take them in and even take an interest, but left to my own devices I am comfortable in my happy bubble of friends and work and fictional characters. After I moved out, my parents would phone me and attempt to talk about current events, and find me weeks out of date–often these calls were actually my only source of news.
What have we learned here? That I’m lazy, inane, not that bright? I prefer to say passive–I’ll learn what someone cares to teach me. Which is what makes social media kind of great. On the internet, on my own, I’ll look up book reviews and personal blogs and recipes and the life stories of people I knew in high school. But I read the newsfeeds on Twitter and Facebook, at least sometimes. And I learn stuff I didn’t know I needed to know. I follow links to actual newspapers and I read the articles. It’s easy to ignore the world when you don’t know what you’re missing; it’s harder when you have to try to ignore it.
I went on Twitter last Friday to post some inane complaint, which is mainly what I post on Twitter. I started reading my newsfeed and found a dozen comments on gun control in the US. I scrolled backwards until I found a name–”Newtown”–and then I googled that and read the news articles. It was miserable reading, of course, but utterly necessary if you want to be a human being living in the world today in a human way. Really, how could a real person ever choose to ignore that kind of tragedy?
Social media brings the tough parts closer, within reach even for someone like me, who often chooses to opt out of the tough parts. It’s not a perfect system (ie., Farmville) but in no small way, social media does help me be a grownup, living in the world.