The Revolution Will Be Tweeted



BEN PATRICK JOHNSON X390It’s like the moments in evolution where nature skips a step. But this time, it’s brought about by human intervention. We’ve seen several similar leaps forward in the past century—with the introduction of the automobile, commercial air transportation, the telephone and radio/TV broadcasting. Each has changed the way we live or relate to one another. Cars erase distances in our daily lives and add personal choice and spontaneity to travel. Planes fly in diverse things to eat, facilitate epidemics like HIV and influenza, and bring Grandma from halfway around the world. A shift that began with radio accelerated with the introduction of TV in 1939, making possible what Marshall McLuhan referred to as “the global village.” Americans moved from gathering around the hearth in the evening to watching a distinctly cooler fire.

Then, a half-century later, we each went to our own room, which may be the worst outcome of the social media explosion. It seems the technologies which bring us together can just as easily scatter us if we allow it.

The social media phenomenon began quietly in 2002 with Friendster, and the following year MySpace became huge among a certain set of people. It would have been reasonable even a few years ago to simply say, “No, thank you,” and opt out of what appeared a cliquish time-waster and yet another avenue for unscrupulous advertisers to hawk investment schemes and snake oil.

But opting out is no longer an option for those who wish to be connected to the larger world, socially, politically and culturally. Mock the former Alaska Governor’s tweets if you like, but do so knowing that you’re ignoring the front lines of social change. Skip Facebook and Twitter, but be aware that you’ve placed a wall between yourself and your nieces, nephews and younger colleagues. The wall may not be visible now. It will be later.

As LGBT people, we have long been marginalized and refused a place in mainstream society by shunning or threat of violence. We socialized in the shadows of an underground speakeasy, the docks of port cities, and clandestine clubs and societies. Interaction was always accompanied by a nervous glance over the shoulder, an awareness that one might be caught and persecuted. We began Gay Pride parades and festivals to carve out a bit of space for ourselves push back against this phenomenon, but it persisted.

Now, with social media, we have the opportunity to form new, very visible constructs with people of like mind or experience. For the first time, our opportunities are just as rich in Bozeman, Mont., as Boston, Mass. There is no upper or lower age limit, no expectation (unless you’re on a social site with the intention of getting laid) of being pretty, or butch, or tall or able-bodied. Starting a group on Facebook requires nothing more than a web browser and a few clicks. Posting an opinion is far more practical and less scary than standing up in public and speaking one’s mind.

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