The social media revolution, World War II, Syria, and oh, Walmart

I’ve been thinking a lot about social media – mostly Twitter – and whether the increased speed and availability of global communicating is really going to make the world a better place (see: every Twitter revolution, everywhere). But Twitter just reflects ourselves back to us – the good and the bad. It’s not going to save us and it’s not going to be our doom. And if you really still think Twitter is about lunch (or keep writing articles about Twitter that start with “breaking news, it’s not just lunch updates”) this post isn’t for you.

I’ve been following the RealTimeWWII updates on Facebook for some time. (It’s a Twitter account, but I follow on Facebook, so bear with me, please). The gimmick? Daily updates from WWII, currently at 1940. It ends up looking something like this:

So far, here’s what’s happened:

In the cascade of updates, I sometimes forget whose updates I’m reading and think it’s real-time news. Then I remember, feel momentarily relieved that it’s “fake” and go back to looking at pictures of your baby, your last party, your vacation and ok, yes, sometimes even your lunch.

Since it’s “fake,” I don’t really pay attention. It’s history, just in bite-sized chunks, though usually with new details I’d never known before.

That’s WWII. What about today? Exhibit A (and B and C, and all the way through Z): Syria. What has Twitter done for Syria? I don’t know enough about international politics and Syria specifically to comment whether things would be unfolding more or less quickly without Twitter. I do know that the international community has been molasses-like in its response speed and completely impotent in its effectiveness¬†(Tagline: “Syria: Coming soon to a human rights council near you!”). With or without Twitter. And I do know that the value of watching or hearing about people being attacked by their own government is negligible. Updates from Aleppo float by my Twitter and Facebook feeds in much the same way as WWII updates – viewed and forgotten within minutes. That’s assuming I’m online and checking.

Tweet about Pussy Riot from Joshua FoustA video came out a couple weeks ago – a daydream, utopian fantasy about Nelson Mandela and, oh, how amazing if he’d just had Twitter. Really? Really? Again, see Exhibit Syria above. Also, see Pussy Riot – this guy seems to have a pretty good take on the ridiculousness of our sudden interest in things Russia.


We like petty. As in, did you know that Canadians are clogging up the Wal-Mart aisles in the US? Preventing decent, American citizens consumers from shopping in peace. It’s an International Travesty! We love petty. We eat it up. Petty feels good. Petty is manageable. You can do something about petty, and it disctracts you from the things you can’t do anything about to boot. What’s not to like about petty?

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