There was quite the buzz last week about a New York Times piece by one Farhad Manjoo, in which he said he’d given up on social media for a couple of months, relying instead for his news on three newspapers delivered daily (the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and his local paper, the San Francisco Chronicle).
At one level, this was an attractive proposition, particularly the way Manjoo framed it: “Turning off the buzzing breaking-news machine I carry in my pocket was like unshackling myself from a monster who had me on speed dial, always ready to break into my day with half-baked bulletins.”
Inevitably nitpickers swarmed out of — I want to say nests? Eeyries? — nowhere to point out that Manjoo had been on Twitter, in fact, during this period, so how could he possibly be claiming . . . well, you can guess where that went. How would that work in sport, though, this kind of digital deprivation?
Do you feel a deep hunger in your soul for a diet of dubious speculation and outright untruth, for distasteful comparisons and laddish overcompensation, for threats of rape and sundry other crimes?
Because if you do, the wonderful world of social media — shortened to ‘social’, I believe, by experts in the field — is open to you.
If you feel that’s an overripe description of what goes on in what we used to call, laughingly, the ‘virtual world’, you need to (not) get out more.
Leaving aside fundamental considerations relating to truth, accuracy, etc, the basic currency of online discussion about sport consists of a rapidly-deteriorating sense of proportion mixed in equal measure with a level of abuse that, frankly . . .
Anyway. I know you were expecting that kind of antipathy from a print journalist, and a follow-up point lamenting the good old days of traditional media is also expected.
Sorry to disappoint, then. Sport on social media is fertile ground, though not in the way you think. The news value is dubious, but the personal-revelation dividend is rich indeed.
The giveaway is the depth of the venom, a slightly nicer way of saying people lose their tiny minds about the smallest issues imaginable.
You know those people in your office/workplace/classroom/bus into town/team/choir/terrorist extraction group who don’t have a sense of proportion about the side they support?
Who can’t be spoken to the morning after that team loses a big game, or a small game, or, in acute cases, the toss before a game?
Who will list off the achievements of their particular team at a moment’s notice, not knowing most of the other people in their immediate vicinity are stifling their laughter at another instance of ‘swallowing the bait’?
Who take a polite inquiry about their weekend as an invitation to inflict ox-stunning levels of boredom on the listener about their team?
What has happened with the advent of social media is that these people are now known to us. They’re visible. And audible.
Remember that movie They Live, with Rowdy Roddy Piper (ask your parents, or, even more depressingly, your grandparents)? In it, Roddy finds a pair of sunglasses which, when worn, reveal the real world, one run by yuppy-like aliens.
Think of The Matrix, but with more realistic waistlines and less boring philosophy.
That’s what social media is: a mechanism for revealing the truth about people. Not news.
That’s why athletes’ occasional missteps and gaffes, as revealed online, are far more interesting than the sanitised presentations, the antiseptic announcements, those focus-grouped, market-oriented, commercialese-heavy declarations of synergy and co-operation.
They’re occasionally undermined by a flash of reality — not always and not often, but occasionally, and occasionally is often enough.
Bear that in mind when you think of cutting yourself off from social media. You’ll remain ignorant about people’s true selves, which is a blessing of sorts in many cases.
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