The Entitlement Baggage of Social Media (and Human Nature)

Believe me, I understand and embrace the inherent hypocrisy of writing about this on a website with my name in the URL, but here we go anyway:

I am all for everyone having a voice, I just don’t think everyone has earned the microphone. And that’s what the Internet has done.

Aaron Sorkin

I fear that most contemporary people are answering questions not because they’re flattered by the attention; they’re answering questions because they feel as though they deserve to be asked. About everything. Their opinions are special, so they are entitled to a public forum. Their voice is supposed to be heard, lest their life become empty…this in one paragraph (minus technology), explains the rise of New Media.

To piggyback on Klosterman’s quote, I think most of us in Western culture feel owed attention. If you were born in the developed world after, say, 1985, and have access to the internet, chances are you’ve always had a platform of some variety—even if it’s “just a Facebook page.” You can communicate to more people from your cellphone in one instant than most people might have interacted with in their entire life 100 years ago. And you’ve been able to do so for a large part of your life. But to what end?

no one is responding to my tweet is something wrong with my beloved twitter [at] this moment [or] have you all forsaken me?

Even celebrities aren’t immune. “Listen to me! I am a unique and beautiful snowflake!” Sharing often becomes something akin to seeking identity in the act of being heard—as if the things we write and make and share have no worth until someone places worth on them by responding. But if no one listens, or at least we perceive a lack of attention, we often angrily shake our metaphorical fists at the sky, robbed of the attention that we are due. We deserve to be known, right? We must be validated by being heard. We are special. We are snowflakes.

The problem is, no one owes me anything. No one owes me a microphone or a platform. No one owes me their ears, their eyes, their time. Those things are valuable, each assaulted on a daily basis by an almost inescapable culture clamoring for our attention. They’re not automatic. Not owed. Not entitled. Not easy. You might have a microphone, but that doesn’t mean you have anything to say, or that anyone will listen. 

And even if what we do grabs someone’s attention for a season, we have to understand how fickle modern audiences are. If I base my identity on having and holding your attention, I forget who I am as soon as you forget to pay attention to me. Being heard can’t be our motivation for speaking. Being responded to can’t be our motivation for sharing. Being discovered can’t be our motivation for creating.