Is Social Media Destroying the Power of Story?

Social media hinges on fast bursts of communication. Facebook, Twitter, even the more one-on-one directness of texting, all revolve around M&M-sized bits of communication, whether that’s textual, aural or visual. The overall stream of communication (that is, the flow composed of each individual bit of communication tossed into the stream by countless users) is rapid, unrelenting and, unlike its riparian counterparts in nature, does not freeze into icy immobility in the winter.

The speed of the stream and the size of each individual drop of communication means that, in general, each drop is probably executed hastily. Maria in Manhattan needs to tweet now that she’s drinking a cocktail now in a trendy nightclub now. Sam in Seattle needs to Facebook now (with an urgency that is bizarrely akin to a desperate need to void his bowels after too many White Castle sliders) that he’s at some restaurant now and that he needs to share this with the world now.

Now. Even though each and every now drift by into irrelevancy. I will be forgotten. You will be forgotten. They will be forgotten. We will be forgotten. Regardless. At any rate, the speed of now dictates that corners will be cut. Extraneous vowels will be eliminated. Precision will be sacrificed on the altar of expediency.

This is a form of communication that the world has never known before. It has, I think, grave implications for story. Story, inherently, takes time. True, there are some brilliant short stories that are only a handful of sentences, but they are more akin to parlor tricks. They are a few, lone caper berries in the massive banquet of story-life. Story needs plot and character and description and color. It needs the breath of life invigorating it like the wind that infused the valley of dry bones, whispering through them until they rattled to life, sinew weaving upon sinew and muscle upon muscle.

For all of that, both time and precision of words are needed. Time for both proper creation and time for proper consumption. Precision in the proper choice of words that mean what they’re supposed to mean, each in its right place, and precision in the consumption of those words, the reader possessing sufficient and correct definitions necessary to understand what she is reading. Not just understand it, but understand it with the clarity and meaning that accompanied the story’s creation.

However, if a reader’s mind is habitually washed in the hasty and imprecise communication typical of social media, what does that mean when that same mind is brought to bear on a traditional story? Can someone who is largely reared on the hastiness of Twitter and Facebook grapple successfully with the Count of Monte Cristo? What’s equally as alarming is the implications this has for writers who have allowed their writing muscles to be exercised by social media. You might point out, and rightly so, that such writers are perfectly suited for a social media audience–vagueness and imprecision of definition communicating with the same (a match made in heaven, or hell, depending on your point of view)–but is that what we desire for our society?

I suspect that story will wither away under these influences, both from the reader and the writer’s sides, until what we know as story will have little similarity to the rich depth of the past. The saying “they don’t make ’em like they used to” can be cloying and irritating, but, in this matter, it has a dreadful ring of truth. Television was once castigated for how its 22-minute time block constrained and forced story into such a limited and artificial box. Compared to the effects of Twitter, however, television now seems like a Edenic wonderland of old-fashioned communication.

So, where to from here?

2 thoughts on “Is Social Media Destroying the Power of Story?”

  1. Hmm. I have a problem with good-old-days thinking (probably much like you have an issue with today’s Chicken-Little ideas). Just because things are changing, doesn’t mean it’s all gloom & doom. Think of the massive changes that came in with the printing press. I’m sure there were storytellers who were absolutely horrified at how narrators no longer had to memorize the proper way to tell a tale, because all of a sudden everyone could get things in print – storytelling went right down the tubes, nobody would bother to craft a proper turn of the spoken phrase any more, because they could just read it off the page – what a loss of a skill, of a way of telling stories…

    Where to from here? Someplace else. Yes, we will lose something. But my guess is we’ll also gain. It’s happened before.

    1. I’m certainly not implying that change is always a bad thing. Gutenberg revolutionized the world for the better. I don’t think he’d be too impressed with what’s happening today. I can’t find anything positive in the fast, vague communication that occurs via Twitter and FB and the like. The more time a kid spends LOLing and gr8ting, the more time his brain spends building those muscles. Those aren’t the textual analysis muscles (as well as the taste inclinations) one needs for analyzing proper writing, let alone writing properly.

      I’m not sure what we’re going to gain, but I can’t imagine it’ll be beneficial.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Share This