Given how often I have raised the issue of TMI on the Internet, I am revisiting a Times article that speaks to the softer side of social media. And no, I don’t mean little love notes left on Facebook or texts to our honeys. Nor do I mean the eloquent letters to our spouses, children, or younger selves that we often undertake in blogging.
This column on tweeting final farewells to a dying parent features a different “softer” usage. It raises issues of appropriate sharing about which opinions are sure to vary. Yet this writer exemplifies how careful handling of delicate subjects can be accommodated in real time.
Just as important, he illustrates how public communication of private matters can provide solace, information, and perspective.
Long the realm of gifted storytellers and filmmakers, painful experience is placed in the service of the many.
In “Tweeting Mom’s Goodbye,” of his 84-year-old mother Scott Simon writes:
[She] wasn’t a princess, a rock singer or a movie star. Instead she became something of a star on Twitter that summer two years ago, as I posted 140-character messages about what turned out to be the last days of her life.
He elaborates on the manner in which he and his mother shared in this process:
The audience… saw a media platform often ridiculed… become a place to read the real-life drama of a mother and son laughing and holding on as they said goodbye.
How Do You “Explain” Social Media?
Recently, an acquaintance who hasn’t spent much time online posed what she thought was a simple question. “Can you explain social media to me?” she asked.
Tall order, don’t you think?
First, she wanted to understand how it was useful to business and second, how it was useful to individuals. As a neophyte, she seemed to view social media as a single animal when in fact, it more resembles a zoo.
Convey years of experience in 10 minutes of conversation?
No. I wasn’t up to taking that on. However, as my acquaintance wanted to better understand why some people prefer Twitter over Facebook or Pinterest over LinkedIn, much less why some of us use all of these and three or four more, I resorted to keeping things as simple as possible. Among other things, I wanted her to recognize commonalities with other forms of messaging. For example:
- As with any communication method, choose as appropriate for your purpose and audience
- Different platforms attract different demographics; keep in mind varied devices
- Some messages lend themselves to more visual capabilities; use the appropriate tools and venues
- Social media is about establishing relationships, or at the very least, points of contact
- Consistency of voice and tone is useful, but there will always be times to change things up
- Creativity is an advantage; likewise humor
- A whisper can be more powerful than a shout
- Delicate subjects call for intentional handling
Clearly, this list could be tripled in length. But note the mention of delicate subjects. I didn’t say that they require delicate handling, but rather, intentional handling — in other words, a careful or at least considered approach.
How Shock and Awe Has Taken a Tumble
Shock and awe?
As for a lessened ability to be shocked and whether that’s positive or negative, that depends on context. I’ll claim “more’s the pity” in the case of spreading hatred and violence, and “damn good thing” if we’re talking about frank, informative discussions of gender and sexuality.
As for the awe factor, I hope that social media hasn’t dulled our capacity for wonder. I suppose you could offer examples such as seeing a famous work of art online so often that when you see it in person, it has a lessened impact, but generally, I haven’t found this to be the case. The ability to explore images, clips and stories of amazing people, places, ideas and things is, for me, remarkable.
The ways in which we communicate online — everything from courting and breaking up by text to attacking marketing objectives in 140 characters — pose more challenges for some than others. Those with a (monetary or emotional) need to sensationalize… will. Likewise, those with a need (or preference) to speak softly will choose to do precisely that. Sometimes, raw and unvarnished truth is far more potent — and appropriate — depending on your purpose, your role, your credibility, your venue and your audience.
Returning to the delicate matter of tweeting from a loved one’s deathbed, we see an unusual use of social media that nonetheless strikes me as respectful, tender, and deeply caring.
Do read Scott Simon’s words. While this particular social media usage may remain controversial, in this instance, it sounds like a gift to the writer and his mother and to all those who listened in.
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