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How Social Media Normalized Mediocrity
How Social Media Normalized Mediocrity

How Social Media Normalized Mediocrity: Through the Lens of Music

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OKP Contributor Jacqueline Schneider is the Founder of Current Mood and a writer living in Los Angeles. She is the former head of Global Strategy for Soulection and comes from a rooted history in uniting ideas and people at the intersection of music and technology. Follow her on Twitter @ jacqmarie or Instagram @j_minty

The internet culture of social media has created a phenomenon that allows for mediocrity – on and offline.

If word is bond, social media is the opposite.

I grew up when people used to “kick it” in real life. Online socializing only happened inside of AOL Instant Messenger boxes, chat rooms and on music torrent sites – with desktop computers that stayed inside of our house. We had pagers too. I had a purple one and my mom had a flip phone. We worried about running out of minutes on our cell phone plans and once MMS became a thing, you could send multimedia messages (images) via text and that’s when the visual side of social sharing began to gain momentum.

When we started to call each other less, we’d communicate in pager code and via text – methods of short form communication that quickly started to influence language subtleties while increasingly normalizing slang. Wider media trends saw the effects of bite-sized content in a new type of [clickbait] headline and once media properties and brands realized they could monetize digital content, the way everyone related to and had patience for information and each other quickly started to change, and with it – an entirely new model of rapid communication became the norm and justified mediocrity in the name of convenience.

If you work in entertainment or media, you know nearly every article, post or piece of content is now linked to an advertiser or someone with a vested financial stake or interest in data. Clickbait – the more clicks, views and time spent on the site or piece of content, the higher media brands can set advertising rates. Clickbait headline example courtesy of Complex Media.

Similar effects mirroring cell phone and media trends were happening on “blogs” – a democratic way to share ideas and opinions – a new form of media. That’s how I got started. In 2008, I created a blog, The Mint Collective, and dedicated the site to “bring visibility to creative endeavors through the medium of music.” I was always social and the blog allowed me to unite real life conversation, experiences, internet music finds and interviews of the artists behind the sounds. This became an entirely new culture of broadcasting largely giving birth to The Soundcloud Generation.

Soundcloud became popular in 2008 and was one of the the first sites that allowed anyone to upload audio content to create your own platform – broadcasting to an audience of 5 or 500,000. The number of people you could broadcast to [and receive messages and comments from] was largely wrapped into how you drove traffic to Soundcloud – typically through social media sites like Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook.

There were a lot of Soundcloud successes – of them, a digital record label and radio show called Soulection that I helped build from the ground up [and exited from this summer] which started as a local podcast, growing into to a worldwide cultural brand and radio show. The new music [media] business started on Soundcloud [and YouTube] and rights holders (mostly major labels) have been trying to figure out how to successfully monetize digital content for nearly a decade. We spoke about our Soundcloud experience here back in 2014.

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The timing for new, democratic methods of broadcasting [or blogging] were a response to traditional media, radio and journalism and their respective lack of representation for all voices. The people were waiting for something that was uniquely their voice, unadulterated, honest, uncut, raw – like hip hop.

The internet created a space for literally anyone to have a voice – good or bad, ignorant or intelligent. Everyday people could become “journalists” or “bloggers" and publish stories, share an opinion, a response to someone else’s – or distribute a piece of content to millions through Soundcloud, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram which began to diversify information distribution and content quantity to the point of distraction.

We’re constantly interpreting these distractions and mistaking headlines for news without reading an entire article. The lack of fact-based “reporting” that social media has perpetuated and normalized  [because of clickbait and shortened attention spans], combined with an absence in human connection due to artificial internet interactions has culminated into a massive disconnection in human decency.

This disconnection is known as “othering” and if held for long enough becomes an unhealthy reality for many. Read the actual definition of Othering here.

We’ve all done this, right? It happens when you see someone online and unconsciously think these people are somehow not like you. We reduce them to the point of exclusion from social groups, placing people or groups in a marginal space or even on a pedestal where social norms do not apply. This is the fascination with other as “celebrity” or “tastemaker” on social media.

A couple of weeks ago, a “celebrity” became President of The United States and masterfully [remember he’s a salesman and a marketer first] created and distributed a very serious suitcase of rhetoric. Allegations during the election were laced with racism, sexism and xenophobia were magnified because of social media and the passive consumption of content [disguised as news] that digital life propels and rewards.

Social media has disconnected us so much from reality that we digest things about people and organizations before even having a first-hand experience or thinking critically about the  information we are being fed.

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.Don Miguel Ruiz's the The Four Agreements is a gem and of them, the third agreement “don’t make assumptions” holds relevant for a culture where close examination doesn’t extend past a media headline. We act on “news” content and social updates that we passively consume, leading us to illogically filter images, people and places attached and sometimes by default we compare the images we see to our own lives. It’s like an advertisement – the fact that a message or image penetrates your very eyeballs, means it’s getting into your brain which means it’s affecting you whether you realize it or not.

Relax. The Internet is not all that bad. In fact, it’s super sick and has brought us the most memorable and ridiculous memes of all time – filling our lives with joy for that quick moment we needed to laugh. As a matter of fact, The Internet is amazing and it’s changed the way we access and deliver information, has created an entire DIY culture, propels modern entrepreneurialism and business and brings visibility to perspectives that typically go under or unreported by media.

The way we stay socially connected and disconnected through pivotal times in the chronology of our journeys has always fascinated me. I've studied sociology my entire life [and officially in college] observing groups, the environments we occupy and the stories that uniquely surround or are created by us. Likely because of that, I ended up at the intersection of music and technology – fields that collide when human expression and social interest groups become driving forces.

I’ve been on a personal mission for the past several months, going back in time to uncover the pieces of my journey in hopes of better understanding myself and the world with a renewed perspective and sense of vision. I’ve been low key trying to figure out how I got to where I am – and high key I’ve realized that the reasons don’t matter as much as the experiences, social interactions and memories do. A lot of my memories are tied to music and food. I grew up singing in a choir as a kid and in real life as an adult and my Dad is a chef. Music, food, art and culture have united me personally with disparate groups of people around the world I never thought I’d have the pleasure of knowing.

Spending a great deal of time socializing for human connection, love, personal curiosity, professional, entertainment or otherwise shows no signs of diminishing any time soon and neither does social media. So, I ask myself what’s the the point of socializing anyway? Sometimes that shit makes me anxious. I love people and sometimes I can’t stand them. Is it the people I can’t stand or is it my lack of understanding of people that is frustrating? Lately, [digital] socializing seems to be more of a study in ego with likeness pegged to social following and who has the best-looking-fake-life – ever.

I say all of this to make a clear case for how much social media and digital living affects us. You may not see the dangers of digital life ever, or you may notice your addiction to your phone daily. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, it’s important to understand the influence digital life has on our real life.

We do it – all day long, on our phones – look at Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, close the apps and open them right back up. The amount of content we ingest everyday creates an overstimulated environment where we are subconsciously flooded with information that we are literally confused and highly distracted by.

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How can one person simply filter every bit of information they are fed as a culture born on the Internet in a logical fashion? According to Clickz, “people spend around 40 minutes per day on average across Facebook [only]” with totals upwards of 2 hours per day spent on social media sites combined. After interacting with digital and social media for a large portion of the day, we create our own version of reality which is highly influenced by our feeds.

In real life you have all the moments – happy, sad, inspired, depressed, anxious, self-conscious but you’d never “post” all of these facets of your life, because that way you’d be too honest with yourself and then everyone else may think you’re a fraud [or, an actual human]. Given the choice to create a story via social media, anyone has the ability to highly edit through a series of posts. Throw a filter on a picture to make something look like it doesn’t, tag a prestigious location, the right people and brands and finally hashtag your post for discovery so you can get more followers. There is a formula to social media success – you have to get the right combo and that doesn’t include any actual life survival or social skills. We live in a world where Instagram "tastemakers" have booking agents. The sheer fact that you have a large number of people “following” you replaces [in many cases] any sort of substance or skill-set that you'd have to possess to survive or even be successful and taken seriously IRL.

Worldwide and more specifically as a nation, we need to acknowledge how we've gotten here and create a simple roadmap to get us back on track so we’re taking advantage the abundance of information and knowledge at our fingertips instead of letting it take advantage of us.

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Uniting people, ideas and culture are very important tools for creating a sense of community and community is essential to move forward in a unified fashion with compassion. We all want this. Especially right now. There’s so much noise and distraction [picture social updates from people you knew 5 years ago] taking us away from our true callings, missions, strengths, service to our community and even spending time with loved ones.

We all have special gifts and it’s our job to find them in ourselves and help others discover truth within them. It’s when we are the most quiet, still and at peace that we can begin to examine our truth and help each other.

Social media is the distribution of all things social distributed through media. As consumers, it's up to us how we interact with that distribution. Media are the main means of mass communication – namely tv, radio, newspaper and the Internet regarded collectively.

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Here’s how we can collectively improve the state of normalized mediocrity:

Step 1: Remember: "Everything You See Ain't Really How It Be" Blackstar, Thieves In The Night

Step 2: Don’t compare yourself to others. We are all human and put our pants on one leg at a time.”Comparison Is The Thief of Joy” - Theodore Roosevelt via Yuki

Step 3: Practice mindfulness. Take responsibility for your words and the effect they have on you and others.

Step 4: Read The Four Agreements.

Step 5: Go on airplane mode frequently and take breaks from social media and digital life for short periods of time. 

Step 6:Stop reading headlines. Read full stories. It’s not only important to be educated but you’ll be surprised how much more you have to think and talk about with others.

Step 7: Get off the Internet and stop reading this.

Thank you Nana Marlene, Mom, Dad, Yuki Imai, Angana Barathur, Doug Patterson, Whest Cornell, Jane Shin, Jenna Britton, Josh Bloom, Dan Petruzzi, Harry Blake and Kieron Ifill for your brains and dialogue during this examination of digital decency [and always].