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Offbeat 24 October 2014

Social media, being a group phenomenon, requires threat alerts and, in the absence of significant threats, individual members will make their contribution to the group with the sublimated gamut of warning signals that range from xenophobia, racism and misogyny, to simple, wearying pessimism.

Somebody has started an initiative to show flowers on Facebook. Put up a picture of a flower on your wall to break the stream of negativity, and anyone who likes the flower gets to post one as well. I have mixed feelings about that, superficially because I dislike ‘flower power’. I met a couple of wannabe hippies, and free love went with free accommodation, free food and free alcohol, all provided by people who actually worked.
Someone else, a Facebook friend of a Facebook friend, in other words someone I don’t know and never will, tried to subvert the thing by posting the same idea, but using a photo of a paper punch. I thought that was a witty counter to the desperate flowers.
Let’s talk about desperate flowers.
The default state of the social web is primarily a difficult pot of negative emotion, ranging the gamut from xenophobic hatred, through misogyny and thinly veiled racism, to standard ‘cool’ pessimism. If you reset the social web, wiped it out and started again, the new beginning would be equally negative, just tinged with the additional bitterness of the loss of all those negative posts over the years when the last iteration was wiped clean.
Perhaps that’s a bit of an overstatement. It’s not all entirely negative. A huge part of the social web is incessant sharing of personal photos, which can be banal to the point of making you wish you could have a lobotomy to escape the ennui. Or make you switch to the dark side of the force and go with the negative stuff.
Do I hear you say, ‘turn the stupid internet off’? That might be valid, but the social web is so entrenched that it might be equally reasonable to say let’s stay indoors and avoid any form of social interaction because there are negative people out there in the real world.
The social web is as much a part of the evolution of society as the car for instance, and the ability to drive over and grumble or moan with friends or family on a Friday night, who live a couple of kilometers distant.
There are times when the social web becomes extremely trying. In order to touch base with friends who have something good to say, you have to wade through a mire of dark and negative posts, as well as the personal photos. It’s easy enough to see why someone launched the meme with the flowers, and why it didn’t die a rapid death..
There are two things that trouble me about the flower meme.
Firstly it requires enfranchisement. In order to be party to the meme, an insider, it requires that you like the post first in order to be nominated. That is the way of the social meme. It creates insider groups in order to spread.

Secondly, and related to the first point, there is a shortage of unprompted positive posts in general. In fact, people who persistently express the idea of optimism and hope are often seen as naive and untrustworthy in general. That phenomenon is easy enough to spot in general life and is echoed in popular media.
Perhaps there is a socio-biological explanation for this. Survival of species depends on the ability to spot threats in good time, and each member of a social group has to contribute to the survival of the group by spotting threats and echoing them when threat alerts are emitted by others.
Social media, being a group phenomenon, requires threat alerts and, in the absence of significant threats, individual members will make their contribution to the group with the sublimated gamut of warning signals that range from xenophobia, racism and misogyny, to simple, wearying pessimism.
That would also explain most of politics, religion and the sniffy, judgmental behaviour of aging gossips at a tea party.
However ongoing threat responses are wearying, whether real or not, and there has to be a state of rest. Much as I am uneasy with the hippie connotation of the flowers meme, I have to go with its logic. Sometimes naïve and ditsy are the perfect antidotes to fear. It’s a pity though that the surreal idea of the paper punches didn’t go viral.

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