Don’t you find it interesting how incensed we were about Ebola, but now…nothing? How, a few weeks ago, we were in hysterics about the border situation, but now there’s no mention? No crowds of people cursing at refugee children to go home? Or are they still there (the children or the protesters)? Do we care?
Remember other topics that caused consternation? The government shutdown (which one, right?)? The latte salute? The Congressional Science and Technology Committee member’s view about ‘legitimate rape’ and birth control? Remember how school shootings are happening all the time? Remember how SARS was going to kill us all? Remember the Darfur crisis? How Rolling Stone put the Boston Bomber on the cover? Hell–remember Elián González? Remember Bush’s faked National Guard records? Remember all the outrage? Aren’t you still outraged? Aren’t you still angry angry angry?
If I had time, I would start a project.
This project would be a website.
This website would catalog what my friends (and friends of friends) talked about on social media channels. Maybe I’d finally get to make a useful tag cloud. There would be summaries of both sides of the debates.
It would rank the most heated and debated topics in an effort to capture what was on the minds of my friends at any given time.
It would be like http://knowyourmeme.com/, the site that maps out when and where Internet memes became popular. (Actually a pretty handy site. When did Keyboard Cat start? How did Ermahgerd become a thing?)
Over time, I would map out the rise and fall of fears and worries, marking when and where certain topics peaked and how often hysteria invaded our modicum of day-to-day normalcy.
I would start this project, see it through and display the results–not because I was trying to be nostalgic, but because I’m curious about something:
Is the modern news cycle reactive (reports on what happens) or proactive (shapes our emotions, manipulates our opinions)?
I wrote a blog post about how I was Tired of being Facebook mad at all the things, which touched on this a bit. But if this project happened, I would go further. I would map out the actual rise and fall of these topics. Was there a pattern? Was there a standard length of time?
I would target friends and friends of friends because I would want people to have a personal connection to the data. I would include what the world was chatting about at large, as a point of reference, but the crux of the site would focus on actual people I knew, versus abstracted sample bodies. It could also show preferred media channels so we could see if Fox or CBS or MSNBC was doing the string pulling.
This site wouldn’t be to embarrass or belittle how often we were taken for an emotional ride due to these currents of current happenings. The very thing I’m personally battling right now is how often I too am whisked away along a merry ride of angst and rage at each introduction of these topics. I’m right there, emotionally caught up and assertively commenting in the debates along with everybody else. I’m not above it at all. It would be fun, however, to have a sort of flashback feature (one month ago you were angry at X, one year ago you were angry at Y…).
But I’m curious–aren’t you? What if there are these stark patterns? Like if the Ebola freak-out was exactly the same as the Benghazi freak-out? Or if the Sandi Hook outpouring of concern lasted the exact same as interest in the Rancher Bundy standoff? Wouldn’t that be fascinating?
Facebook did its odd psychological experiment where they literally altered people’s moods and dispositions by selectively showing them positive or negative posts. You can’t tell me the media doesn’t do the same sort of stuff? Hell, when I was a newspaper man, we’d slap a kid or puppy on the cover during slow weeks to sell more issues. Worked every time. Y’all are predictable as gravity.
Then again, maybe we shouldn’t mine that data? Maybe it would be disheartening to see just how often we switch allegiances to causes or crises? ALS nees donations again? Darfur still going on? Kony still at large? Ugh, seriously? That ‘people suffering and dying’ stuff? BORING! Selfie sticks are the rage, now!
I wouldn’t do it to be cynical, but to help make us all more resistant to being emotionally manipulated.