Social Media Aesthetics

Social media changes the way we exchange information. Today, we tend to communicate via social media applications online, today, we share information in a conversational manor, we comment, tweet, blog and podcast our opinions out into the world. We often hear comments about how iReport-style and similar grassroots efforts re-shape the journalism often times in a negative perspective by introducing amateur content to the equation of the journalistic profession. I question this assumption, and ask how does social media affect our communication aesthetics and does it degrade our culture or perhaps diversifies our mass media communication?

On one hand let’s assume that when there are too many people talking at the same time, the message begins to loose its power. Perhaps mixing noise with the conversation is not a good practice if you want to communicate your message to the intended audience. I would agree to that when we listen to a well edited program or read a professionally edited piece reported correctly with assumed journalistic integrity, we understand the message correctly. One-to-many aesthetics take place. Social media obliterates this notion with many-to-many communication style.

On the other hand we have a “dirty” information vs. clean reporting. How credible is the resource, how honest is the reporting? Ethics and aesthetics of mass media broadcasting kick in. With that in mind we should be able to distinguish the yellow press reporting from the actual source-checked white press. Is this what it comes down to? But now with added amateur factor to the content. Social media breaks this aesthetic again and produces a message out of the noise. Chinese earthquake breaks through the great Chinese firewall on twitter and sheds the light on truth through amateur viewfinder.

Is it really a pro vs. an amateur then? Or maybe… just maybe, this is just a learning curve for the society within its technological advent and professionalism begin to unchain the energy of the commons from the roots of the grassroots effort, in the middle of the office of his majesty the Editor in Chief.

What I am trying to say here is that in the process of social media democracy, in the noise of information coming from everywhere and very loud, we need to learn to tune ourselves to recognize the patterns of truth, as it reveals to us through the digital media outlets. We need to learn to distinguish and interpret a dialogue of many to many.

Skills of the editor and crafts of the journalist may become handy in this case only from a postmodernist perspective. The postmodernist aesthetics in this case represent the new art form of communication. Postmodernism, by definition, rejects theory and ideology; instead, it draws attention to the principle. Medium is the massage, yes, I read it correctly, it is the MASSAGE.

Let me massage that a bit. Theory is the observed science of nature and sociology; ideology is the way we are looking at things. Traditionally, we see things a certain way, we express the world through what we know, what is common, and how we relate to each other. We say “this is a cow,” or “this is glass of milk.” Modernism reconstructs that idea by portraying a form through alternative reality. For example, “This is how I see a cow,” or “this is how I see a glass of milk.” Postmodernism deconstructs that reality to its bare minimum. Ok… confusing! In theory, it is a principle – a fundamental assumption, a visual expression, a new understanding of the world, without involving a subject, instead, concentrating on the subject matter, the theme, the state of mind.

The art of communication is similar to the actual art. When art began its existence, it was as important to the people in an everyday life. When art became ‘Fine’ (sculpture, painting, music, and poetry). The same thing in art of communication, it was something that belonged to the elite. Only a few could afford it, so just as the art of communication, the actual art became detached from the everyday life, from crafts and useful things, it implied something beautiful that took a “skill, superiority, elegance and perfection.” Fine art was separated from crafts and mass culture. So did the news. For example, I often turn away from local corp channel news, because it only represents the elitist, top to bottom perspective of the corp news affiliates, reporting their interpretations of the events that happen on the local level. In comparison, visual arts for centuries belonged to the ruling class, the finer the art the bigger the wallet. One may conclude that the news today still belong to the elites, to their formula of success, to what gives the station a higher rating for a bigger buck.

Towards the end of 19th century, with the help of technological advent, art slowly soaked through to the masses. Social media at the end of the 20th century slowly soaked through the internet into an average households. Technology advent once again is able to bring the art of communication to the masses. Soon, masses wanted to create art and news themselves, so the mass culture was born. Social media aesthetics, however, are still shaping up.

In the 20st century, mass culture lacked immediate feedback from the mass audience. So did the media. And that’s the way the cookie crumbled. Today we have instant and often overwhelming stream of everything to everyone. Yet our collective mind still used to the top-down approach. What used to be dessending upon us in a form of mass media information, reflected the social construct of the 20th century with the trickle down approach. Today’s aesthetics of the social media promote the motivation from bottom-up, the grassroots effort, the iReport, the instant coverage of the news, however amature or professional, represent the human struggle to translate and interpret the streams of news. The 21st century web 2.0 and social media networks, the feedback of masses becomes almost instant, in turn shaping and forming the mass culture, often devisive when it comes to hard core political views or religion but also making it possible for the artists and communicators to directly connect with their audience and receive feedback instantly. The aesthetics of social media is the reverse flow with the feedback from masses.

Considering that we all do our homework and able to understand and know how to decipher facts and separate them from alt-fact, one can argue that social media aesthetics shape our culture and forces us in a path of a change. The true art of communication lays within the apparent orthodoxy of postmodernism – the search of the new identity, re-mediation and remix, delivery of news with the flow of opinions and reactions, the rhetoric of the immersion and ability to translate the medium as the message, the aesthetics of the 21st century’s social media movement.