With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
"With great power comes great responsibility." I knew all along that I wanted that to be the title of this blog post, and I was certain that it was a quote from Obi-Wan Kenobi. This worked well for me because I was going to work Star Wars® into our Christmas blog post for the third year in a row.
Except that it wasn’t Obi-Wan Kenobi. It was a different Ben altogether. Well, sorta.
A distracting two-hour voyage down the Google/Wikipedia rabbit hole taught me that it wasn’t Obi-Wan at all. In fact, conclusive evidence was hard to come by. It was possibly Voltaire or something to do with the French Revolution, but it has also been paraphrased by President Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and the US Supreme Court. And perhaps most famously, in pop culture no less, it was attributed to Uncle Ben Parker, the short-lived father figure of Spiderman’s secret identity. Although even here, he didn’t actually say it; it was just a narrative box in the original comic book.
So, apologies for that non-sequitur as an opener, but it does serve to illustrate the point of this blog post, which is that the internet has given us tremendous access to information and communication. Are we truly appreciative of this power? Or do we squander it? And how much should we trust it?
2017 has been a tumultuous year in many respects. Social media has played a major role. We have seen the positives it can bring during the natural disasters that pummeled Texas and the Caribbean, where social media allowed loved ones to let them know they were safe. It also helped warn people of approaching danger, or share stories of otherwise untold stories of good Samaritans. More recently social media has played a role in bringing to light the #metoo movement, allowing victims of sexual harassment to share their stories and find the support of others. And the new President’s predilection for Twitter is probably going to be a subject of a number of college courses, if it isn’t already.
Social media now moves at a faster pace than traditional media outlets. The resulting pressure to be the first to the story often leaves little time for any sort of vetting process. And this need for speed has caused more people to turn to social media for their ‘news’, unchecked by basic journalistic principles. In fact, it has forever changed the way people consume information, period. The involvement of Russian operatives in the 2016 election on Facebook (without Facebook being any the wiser) showed how perilous this can be.
Politics in general has created an abundance of negative energy on social media. We all have that friend on Facebook, who vociferously spews their political views (right or left) to the masses. I have mutual friends, who have come to disturbing ‘virtual’ blows on Facebook over their beliefs. Long gone are the days when one might have a civil face-to-face discourse over such matters when it is so much easier to be a ‘keyboard tiger’.
Is this really the pinnacle of how we use the incredible technology, that is so conveniently at our fingertips? In a Facebook blog post, the author noted that: "In general, when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information — reading but not interacting with people — they report feeling worse afterwards." Just to make sure you understand: Facebook is noting that spending too much time on Facebook might make you feel bad. Former Facebook exec Chamath Palihapitiya went a little further, commenting that “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works” in a recent speech at Stanford.
Of course this may sound a bit hypocritical coming from an agency that does a considerable amount of work in social media. Don’t get me wrong, at Thin Pig we are big-time believers in the power of social media. But we like to focus on sharing the positive stories of our clients, and we believe that social is a great place to broadcast those messages. We had the great fortune to start working with new clients in five different countries this year, and can’t think of a better avenue to share their stories globally than through social. And to be fair, that same Facebook blog post noted that: "actively interacting with people — especially sharing messages, posts, and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions — is linked to improvements in well-being."
But we don’t believe that social should be a one-stop-shop for all your information needs, and we certainly don’t think that it supersedes actual human contact. Challenge yourself in 2018 to be positive on social media. Buy a newspaper. Ask questions. But most importantly, seek out opportunities to have actual human interactions, whether or not the person agrees with you. I am pretty sure there are more coffee shops per capita nowadays than in any other period in modern history, so you have no excuse (especially here in Seattle).
And as I write this, another Star WarsⓇ movie has come out, just in time for Christmas...again (side note: there is no way Disney is going to allow this to be The Last Jedi...seriously). And while it may not have been Ben Kenobi who espoused the title of my blog, Uncle Ben Parker is part of Marvel, which is owned by Disney, which also owns Star Wars. So I don’t feel I was that far off. I am, however, glad that I looked it up before posting it as fact on social media.
Happy Holidays from everyone on the Thin Pig team! We wish you much success in 2018!