June 22, 2011

Social Media v. Antisocial Media

Is Twitter the new disco music? So argues Virginia Heffernan, the NYT's perceptive new media columnist, saying that social media appeal to blacks, gays, and women, just like disco did in 1977. 

Yes, but what about the antisocial media? I ask in my new Taki's Magazine column. Roughly 1995-2005 may go down in history as the golden age of white guys' antisocial media. 

49 comments:

Anonymous said...

You can see why the average black guy would be sore about gullible white folks blaming him for disco. I’m not sure blacks have ever quite forgiven whites for this misperception.

Strangely enough, I've never had a black person mention disco in any way, shape or form. They don't seem to consider it black music.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff. I can't bring myself to acknowledge Twitter's existence, except when it is forced on me. On the other hand, I suppose it is good for aphorists and joke writers.

Anonymous said...

They just want to say whatever is on their minds at the moment.

And generally whats on their minds turns out to be a load of emotive, shallow twaddle.

Rory Mac said...

Steve, just re-reading you War Nerd interview; when was the last time you interviewed someone? Or even tried? I remember you saying you prefer the writing process, it gives you more time to think, rather than spur of the moment give and take. But still, it's a downside of your mainstream ostracization that you can't say, interview Amanda Marcotte, or go head to head with Yglesias/Brooks on bloggingheads, or even better, Uncle Timmy! Think about it...

another Aaron said...

That's a great observation! But come on, let's give full credit to the woman who observed it. Yes, you do say that it was Emily Nussbaum, but your article reads, "HEFFERNAN...HEFFERNAN...HEFFERNAN...(emily nussbaum)...HEFFERNAN...HEFFERNAN." You of all people should be sensitive about people not getting enough credit for original ideas.

Anonymous said...

“If you’ve ever observed a Wikipedia Editors Meetup, you can see why they don’t get together more often.”
heh

TGGP said...

As I mentioned over there, you passed over the racial divide between Facebook and Myspace.

Marlowe said...

In the U.K. one of the biggest twitters has been the minor comic actor (Blackadder, Jeeves & Wooster, Wilde, Gosford Park, Bright Young Things, Kingdom, V for Vendetta) TV presenter and noted homosexual Stephen Fry, so perhaps you have identified a connection.

smarter than an asian said...

Shallow, extraverted, communication for the sake of communication - I was wondering how satisfying it would be for nerdy white guys to use Twitter and Facebook. Yet some of you seem compelled to do so merely to keep up with the new technology. Go figure.

Then there are those of us who are luddite holdouts from another era. I'm so outraged at the intrusions of modern technology, I'm thinking of ditching my CD collect for vinyl and buying a classic car from the pre-computer chip days.

Grumpy Old Prospector said...

UGH! I work in mining (98% male), and we are being invaded by 20-something women who know nothing of mining but bill themselves as "social media experts" (BA Communications).

Now, all of a sudden, our companies are on twitter and facebook, and our websites emphasize our commitment to sustainability and social development. Everything about our marketing is now designed to appeal to women, who have no money to invest in risk capital and zero interest in mining. Men, as usual, just want to see good numbers.

On the plus side, having a bunch of hot chick colleagues is great for "networking" opportunities at trade shows.

Anonymous said...

Again nothing about Mexicans. Is there a Mariachi media?

Anonymous said...

Most of those white nerdy males are ASOCIAL, not ANTI-social. Anti-social would be criminal types. In fact, some blacks use twitter for anti-social purposes, like forming flashmobs to attack people.

Anonymous said...

Somebody just hurt Whit Stillman's feelings.

[Unless maybe you know something about ol' Whit that we don't know?]

Kylie said...

I've long thought of computers as being like microwave ovens. I remember reading about how you could cook roasts and bake bread in the microwave and later, design your own website and research arcane subjects on your computer. Sure, some do these things, but not many. Most of us mainly thaw and heat or text and tweet.


I also remember rolling my eyes when white elites were bleating about the "digital divide". The implication was that if only blacks had internet access the way whites do, that pesky achievement gap would narrow if not close. I figured blacks would use the internet mainly to keep in touch with other blacks, bet and buy stuff online. I think my prediction was closer to the reality of blacks online than that of the left-wing fear-mongers.

Anonymous said...

Rap was created during the same time period as disco, not afterwards. Another insightful observation from the guy who thinks people like Nathaniel Weyl are major scientific authorities.

alonzo portfolio said...

Well, I'm not gay and I thought disco was great. For me, one of the worst parts of college was having to bear endless repetition of Peter Frampton.

Gentleman's C said...

Wasn't Heffernan canceled last season like some lame TV show she would've written about? Yes, she's on the "Opinionator" section now but it couldn't have been expensive.

The thing about blacks getting blamed for disco is personally interesting because I still remember my visiting Am Civ professor from the Duke of the North (he was a middle-aged white slob, naturally) limning the insidious racist subtext of record demolitions at Comiskey. Around then at my college there was also a semi-renowned Ph.D. student, famous mostly for ostentatiously spelling her name in lowercase like e.e. cummings but also for publishing a research tract based on the earth-shaking newsflash that, at that time, Facebook was up-market and MySpace was downscale (read: black or non-English-speaking). Twitter seems to have been especially embraced by pro athletes, regardless of race, and assorted white idiots like Frankie Muniz and Keith Olbermann who truly enjoy trading insults with hecklers, but retains a broader popularity that I've never understood, and I'd joined the service during the invitation period of their open beta 5 years ago, under a fake celebrity name that I promptly abandoned. Perhaps there is nothing singularly Afro-friendly about it, but since writing about blacks constantly will inevitably cross paths with the tweeting mass id, the Manhattan journalism-industrial complex would need to put a 1964-vintage racial spin on that, too. Which is unfortunate--even though you have twittering going on everywhere from the prime minister of Malaysia to movie directors in Lagos to Quebecois separatists, I can only mentally fit in the most spectacular disgraces, like the WNBA player who suggested that the perpetrators of Pearl Harbor (act of war, not film) deserved their tsunami...

agnostic said...

Disco was a trance / possession cult, which usually appeal to the socially marginal. It gives them a way to act out or cut loose but without overturning the social hierarchy -- we're not intentionally that rebellious, we just can't help what comes over us!

By the way, heavy metal and punk which came out during the same time were also trance / possession cults, though appealing to socially peripheral young males rather than women, gays, and blacks.

If Twitter is another possession cult, Heffernan doesn't show that very well in her column. Sure, social media offer a collective experience, and Twitter appeals more to marginal groups.

But where is the feeling of totally losing self-consciousness? And of using this dissociative state as a face-saving way to act outside of one's prescribed role, for the weekend anyway, without upsetting the power structure?

Seems like another case of digital worlds hopelessly trying to recreate even the lowest-quality real-world event. Forget disco, Twitter isn't even a middle school dance.

jody said...

eh, i don't know. the less a group has to say the more they talk, seems to be a general rule. not always true but often true. i've posted before and i'll post again, improving communications technology just enables them to talk even more.

the group that creates all this tech, boring worthless white guys, usually come up with it because they needed a way to send short but very dense and information rich exchanges over great distances. sending high energy physics data was the main use of the net for a while. and of course the 160 character SMS limit: so typically german in efficiency. communication that was short, to the point, and important. extremely high signal to noise ratio.

teenage girls have nothing to say but lots to yap about. today high school girls send 80 texts per day on average according to one study i saw, and before texting came from europe to the US, the girls were chatting on their cell phones all day, and before that, passing notes in class. which i assume is a totally obsolete thing, like rewinding a casette tape or VHS tape, something which future generations will never know, LOL.

agnostic said...

As for the anti-social geek media, it's hard to see evidence that this is the more formal, structured, and built-to-last alternative to the informal, spontaneous, and fleeting social media churn.

Of all the nerd-meets-nerd projects, only Wikipedia has lasted, and largely by abandoning the anything-goes and non-hierarchical nature of other spontaneous and decentralized internet projects.

jody said...

how about that woman who was kicked off an amtrak train by the police for yammering away for the entire 16 hour ride? nobody has 16 hours worth of stuff to talk about. years ago on steve's site i would sometimes mention the part of town i grew up in was 25% black americans and how riding the bus with them was the loudest most annoying experience ever because about half of them would never be quiet for any reason. cell phones and twitter just enable this behavior.

jack dorsey did not create twitter to make money (maybe it makes some now, i don't know). anyway he's not a billionaire, despite running a service which is easily a billionaire's in size and scope. twitter seems easy to monetize - you just sell little 20 character text ads that are appended to every tweet "Brought to you by Nike" - but he didn't want that.

i would not describe twitter as stupid, like social networking sites. it's not a huge time sink. rather than being stupid, twitter is dangerous, and gets you into trouble. allowing a million people to instantly see what your private thoughts are on some topic? once a year you'll find that you've offended a hundred thousand of them. roger ebert was the latest victim. twitter has only been mainstream for a few years and i'm already so tired of hearing about what some famous person "tweeted". who F cares.

anyway, it makes no sense at all for people with a lot to lose, to ever use twitter. it is the downfall of professional athletes regularly.

Anonymous said...

"The thing about blacks getting blamed for disco is personally interesting"

Well, maybe it was the gay blacks. Disco gays were into funk and groove, and both have roots in boogie woogie black music of the early 70s.

I don't think the main bitching among blacks was 'disco is associated with blackness' but 'disco is white folks stealing black groove and funk--soul train stuff--and making it white'. After all, Bee Gees were the biggest disco act. Donna Summer was big too, but maybe more among white girls.
Stuff like Andrea True Connections with 'More More More' and Rod Stewart asking if he thought he was sexy were too bogus for blacks. Even so, I recall most kids liking disco from mid to late 70s when I attended a mixed race city school. Some fat black kid used to dance to JUPITER by Earth Wind and Fire in class every so often. And CAR WASH was a big hit too. There was no clear line between black music and disco. Was EWF disco? Yes and no. To white kids, it could be disco. To black kids, it was just soul.

The biggest disco hit, movie and music, was SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, and maybe that was too white for blacks. But then disco got really gay with Village People. And then, everyone jumped on the bandwagon, with Stones releasing MISS YOU. It soon turned into self-parody.

I think rap has enjoyed a longer lifespan because of its lack of pretension. It is thug music for thugs and porn music for nymphos. It was never a fashion but a passion. But disco, for a while, became a fashion among even the fancy crowd. (Consider LAST DAYS OF DISCO.) It was THE happening thing for awhile but then it got old and tacky and everyone--white, black, and even gay--stuffed it in the closet. I think New Wave washed away for the same reason. It too had an air of artsy pomp, thus seductive for a time and then embarrassing soon afterwards. (Why did simple-and-crude punk fail to gain the popularity of rap? You can't dance to it and it was overtly political. Rap, though used politically, has basically been about thuggery and sex.)

Even so, disco-like music never really died. Michael Jackson, the biggest act of the 80s, essentially took disco elements to a whole new level: groove, funk, dance-centrism, sexual ambiguity. So did Prince. And all that synethizer stuff in New Wave music also drew on certain disco-elements.

Mupetblast said...

Kylie, you may get a kick out of this (self plug):

http://www.inmalafide.com/blog/2011/06/15/the-expanding-universe-of-egalitarianism/

Anonymous said...

http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/04/20/reviews/970420.20ebertt.html

Great book. What we really miss are the Great White Men. Raoul Walsh's interview is about the wildest I've ever read. (The cigar-smoking French doctor in Montana is a riot.) Compare the Great White Men like Walsh, Ford, Hawks, Mann, Peckinpah, etc of yesteryear to the Goody White Boy of the Beatty, Redford, Sayles school.

I suppose Stone and Scorsese work in the Great White Man vein, but there was a time when a whole bunch of Wasps and Irishmen fit that bill too. But pale face whites are only allowed to be good, not great.

I think horses and guns toughened up a lot of white men in the past. But too much modern stuff turned many into dweebs.

Anonymous said...

OT: NYT's hero of the day, a Filipino gay illegal immigrant who shared Pulitzer prize.

Interesting case. He sounds every bit convinced that his relative fame will let him reside in the country. Will INS knowingly let it slip?

Wikipedia says he majored in Political Science and Black Studies (check), after which WaPO immediately hired him to review video games (check). It sounds very unlikely that he ever paid any taxes. But he is now campaigning for an amnesty and more legal immigration, which makes him even more of a hero with Matt Yglesias and NYT core readers.

Clue for $100 Wink said...

What is/are the study(ies), methodology and stats that his claim is based upon?

Larry, San Francisco said...

I was living on the south side of Chicago during the disco summer of 1978. As I remember it a lot of blacks liked disco and would play it loudly out of their boom boxes on the bus.
By 1979 the tide had turned and many blacks were into funk (Parliament was really popular) which was a huge relief. By the time I left Chicago in 1982 the tide had turned to the real Sweet music (Boyz II Men) which I disliked a lot more than disco.

Anonymous said...

Meh. I don't think the disco angle fits.

When Twitter started out, it was mostly techy white guys. "Early adopter" types. At some point, it took off with blacks. By now it's pretty much mainstreamed.

Apple is planning to heavily integrate Twitter into the new iPhone and iPad, and their core market is upper middle class white dudes.

Your take is more accurate. Twitter is revenge of the normal people, in all their dumb, misspelled, social glory.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how she wedged Anthony Weiner into this. I found the hysteria over his dick pic trading to be insane, but I realized it's just a weird generation gap.

Baby boomers who wouldn't blink an eye at a massive coke-fueled public orgy basically associate online sexuality with the pedophiles on chat rooms they saw countless Dateline specials on. I.e. they see it through a "Weiner as a predator" frame.

Meanwhile in every conservative white town in the South half the teens are sexting each other in the classroom.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Anonymous... Steve, you used "anti-social" incorrectly, except insofar as it's taken on a new meaning accorded it by the enemies of White men.

Fall into the Gap said...

I don't know how she wedged Anthony Weiner into this... it's just a weird generation gap.

Baby boomers who wouldn't blink an eye at a massive coke-fueled public orgy basically associate online sexuality with the pedophiles on chat rooms they saw countless Dateline specials on. I.e. they see it through a "Weiner as a predator" frame.


It is a generation gap. When you grow up, you'll (a) learn not to get reality spoon-fed to you from John Waters films and that (b) you too do not want a horny teen sitting in Congress or anyplace else making big decisions with your tax dollars.

Nanonymous said...

By 1979 the tide had turned and many blacks were into funk

Backs turned their back to disco because the white boys Rolling Stones recorded a great disco song in 1978 :-)

Anonymous said...

"Meanwhile in every conservative white town in the South half the teens are sexting each other in the classroom."

Yes, teenagers. Not members of the US Congress.

". . .I.e. they see it through a "Weiner as a predator" frame."

More like "Weiner as a complete idiot" frame.

Anonymous said...

"(b) you too do not want a horny teen sitting in Congress or anyplace else making big decisions with your tax dollars."

I think it worked out okay during the Clinton administration, actually.

Mike Hunt said...

Some pictures of your cousin, both from 1977 and today, would be appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Clearly the usual success at promoting responsible adults into Congress.

Londoner said...

I can just about make time for Facebook but I have studiously avoided any contact with Twitter, which strikes me as the stupidest online fad yet. Although I am interested to hear that it's so disproportionately black - I'd assumed it was more a swpl-y thing.

Disco unquestionably pre-dates hip-hop (it's fallacious to refer to 'rap', which is the vocal technique favoured in hip-hop rather than the genre itself, and has arguably been around for a very long time), by three years at least. It's worth pointing out that hip-hop didn't become ludicrously macho until the late 80s or later - I can't imagine a gorgeous song like P.M. Dawn's 'Set Adrift On Memory Bliss' surviving and thriving in the the jungle of contemporary hip-hop the way it did 20 years ago, for example.

Agreed that blacks are not too keen to 'claim' disco the way they are rock'n'roll, jazz, anything blues-based etc. It just became too irretrievably gayified in the late 1970s, particularly by the Village People, so it was disowned. Blacks tend to get more proprietary about house music - disco's direct successor - and its offshoot techno. This claim is a reasonable one, but the genres and most of their best exponents have been largely white/hispanic for many years now. Hip-hop, however ugly and bloated it becomes, continues to crowd out all else on your side of the pond. Trance, the most intense and melodic of the disco-derived genres, has always been an entirely white and 90% Dutch/Belgian/German/English phenomenon. It is also a very male one - its mathematical progressions, convoluted structures and relentless beats echo prog rock and put off all but a hard core of females (who perhaps contra expectations tend to be more rather than less hot). It's an interesting cultural niche that is easily surviving the onslaught that is being directed at everything else that is white/European/male these days, and flourishing (Americans have never iiked it though).

soren said...

This was just tweeted out by Pew

http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Technology-and-social-networks/Part-2/Platform.aspx

Black usage of twitter is somewhat proportional to their population... it isn't twice as much.

Only 2% of linkedin users are black though. 4% of hispanics use linkedin. Both those numbers seem slightly low from my usage.

I use a popular programming "social network"/code repository called github and I don't remember ever seeing a black male on there(I have seen 1 black female before)... I have seen quite a few black programmers on twitter though... and most of the time they seem to be recent 1st/2nd generation immigrants to Europe/America from Africa.

The only popular programming language that was created by someone who wasn't white is Ruby... whose creator is a Japanese Mormon. Ruby is kind of the hipster-ish programming language and the black female I saw on github was a Ruby programmer.

I'm pretty sure white people are the out of proportional majority of reddit/hacker news(news.ycombinator.com)/4chan...

Fall into the Gap said...

"(b) you too do not want a horny teen sitting in Congress or anyplace else making big decisions with your tax dollars."

I think it worked out okay during the Clinton administration, actually.


Not really a cause-effect situation here. But to your comparison about the peccadilloes of Clinton vs Wiener:

Clinton was an animal of excessive, but natural sexuality. He used his power, charm and intellect to fulfill his voracious carnal appetites and avoid discovery or punishment by any means necessary.

The dude just needed it... a lot. I expect most of his notches, like JFK's, were satisfied or appreciative enough of the attention to be discreet. Monica still pines for Willie today in her spinsterhood.

Wiener is one creepy and messed up dude. Forget the politics. Would you want your daughter or sister to date/marry this guy. Luckily his wife is Hillary's lesbian lover and hasn't really been hurt in all this.

The weirdo seemed to be living out some adolescent nerd revenge fantasy. He used his fame and comic political performances to psychologically sexually conquer women who probably laughed at him in HS. No doubt, the women soon realized sharing a similar political ideology at a distance with a ruboff of fame was the most Wiener was worth. No woman apparently expressed any interest in meeting the guy.

Wiener was insane to think he could publicly broadcast full-frontal shaved nude pics to strangers unsolicited. He's unhinged sexually the way McCain is unhinged militarily - both driven by angry personal demons that leave them without the ability to make measured, judicious and intelligent decisions. This is why they are both tools - simple 1 or 2 note attack dogs. McCain is obviously more dangerous but Wiener was on the track to becoming a made man as well.

Anonymous said...

"I found the hysteria over his dick pic trading to be insane, but I realized it's just a weird generation gap."

Really?

Certain generations just can't tell why a 45-year-old man taking pictures of something no one wants to see and sending them to unwilling chicks is weird?

Anonymous said...

"I think it worked out okay during the Clinton administration, actually."

The Republican Congress was such?

travis said...

Disco was a trance / possession cult, which usually appeal to the socially marginal. It gives them a way to act out or cut loose but without overturning the social hierarchy -- we're not intentionally that rebellious, we just can't help what comes over us!

Good assessment, agnostic. What you're talking about can be seen in the the disco scene in The Social Network. The Mephistopheles-like Sean Parker seduces the Faust-like Mark Zuckerberg to rebellion as techno music pounds away in the background. Of course, what makes Zuckerberg and Parker different is that they actually succeeded in overturning the social hierachy. -- Now what? Who is responsible? That's the question the movie raises.

Not surprisingly, Sorkin is receiving criticism for his conservatism. From a leftist point of view, he is a conservative. A world dominated by gays, blacks, and women is not one he would prefer to belong to, if such a world is even possible. Let us not forget Sorkin was the man who wrote these line..."You can't handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives...You don't want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall."

jcp said...

"Trance, the most intense and melodic of the disco-derived genres, has always been an entirely white and 90% Dutch/Belgian/German/English phenomenon. It is also a very male one - its mathematical progressions, convoluted structures and relentless beats echo prog rock and put off all but a hard core of females (who perhaps contra expectations tend to be more rather than less hot). "

So THAT'S what it's called.
Me like, but I always called it sci-fi-new-agey.
It's nice to be in the hot category statistically for something at last.

another Aaron said...

All this talk of disco sure brings back the memories. The more I think about it, the more brilliant Nussbaum's observation looks.

Remember what that nerdy white guy sang back during the height of disco?


You start a conversation you can't even finish.
You're talking a lot, but you're not saying anything.
When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed.
Say something once, why say it again?


DISCO WAS SOCIAL MEDIA.

Anonymous said...

Sorkin quits facebook.

Ray Sawhill said...

Good column. I love Facebook myself. 90% of the fun of blogging for only 10% of the effort; a great way to be in near-daily touch with a couple of dozen much-loved friends I'd otherwise be likely to fall too much out of touch with; as well as a great way to meet cool people. Twitter I don't get at all, though.

JSM said...

"today high school girls send 80 texts per day on average"

Yeah, but better they're texting than yakking. (Provided they're not also driving, of course).

Anonymous said...

Your take is more accurate. Twitter is revenge of the normal people, in all their dumb, misspelled, social glory.

Like public schools - except that nobody is forced to use Twitter.

andremartin said...

social media That's a great observation! But come on, let's give full credit to the woman who observed it. Yes, you do say that it was Emily Nussbaum, but your article reads, "HEFFERNAN...HEFFERNAN...HEFFERNAN...(emily nussbaum)...HEFFERNAN...HEFFERNAN." You of all people should be sensitive about people not getting enough credit for original ideas.