Monday 21 December 2015

Star Wars, Social Media, and Hiding the Shiny Thing

I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Saturday. It was great fun.

The last time a Star Wars movie lived up to my expectations, I was five years old and watching Return of the Jedi on its first release. It was such a huge relief to simply enjoy a Star Wars film, instead of cringing at leaden dialogue, incoherent plots and implausible character motivation.

I might do a full review later. Meanwhile, I agree with the SF author John Scalzi's verdict: It's not great art, but it's very enjoyable and entertaining. That's not too surprising, because it's what Disney does best.

I'd add that Star Wars inspired a whole generation of science fiction fans. For the most part, we aren't blind to its flaws, but view it with enormous affection. Even after the appalling prequels, there was a huge reservoir of goodwill and creative talent available to make Episode VII -- not to mention a lot of cold, hard cash. JJ Abrams' job was to marshal those resources and produce something with the same sense of fun and adventure as the original films.

Abrams has done all of the fans proud, and I'm looking forward to the next instalment. This time, the anticipation is uncomplicated: Hey wow, that was great! I want to see more! (Last time, it was more like: Oh, please let Lucas learn from his mistakes and not f**k up the next one so badly.)

The keen of eye might have noticed I didn't see the film until three days after its release. This was forced on me by babysitting logistics, but it presented a dilemma. Did I take the risk of viewing spoilers, or deprive myself of Facebook and Twitter for a few days? I chose the second option, and I'm really glad I did.

It's a Star Wars spoiler. (Sorry.)
Source: imgur
Hey, I get it. People get excited, they talk, and social media is where they talk about things. Spoiler etiquette is a veritable minefield. Is it OK for me to reveal Thorin dies at the end of The Hobbit? The book was published in 1937, but not everyone has read it, and some only know the story through the films.

That said, I think broadcasting spoilers to all and sundry, in the first week or so after a film comes out, is very rude. Most people know better than to make revelations like "Darth Vader is Luke's father", but even giving away the punchline to a joke detracts from the enjoyment. I want the fun of seeing Harrison Ford or Daisy Ridley say the line, without reading it first in some Facebook post.

Yeah, Darth Vader is Luke's father. It's become pretty well
known since the big reveal in 1980, so my conscience is clear.
Source: moviememes
Naming no names, some of my friends and acquaintances didn't see it this way. I could weep, wail, and rage at the unfairness of this being so, and plot dreadful revenge upon the spoilering ones, but frankly it's a fool's errand. We have different notions of etiquette, the Internet contains behaviour I consider rude, and I might as well accept it. My options were to grit my teeth and risk spoilers, or just stay off social media.

The Facebook-addled procrastination monkey on my back says, what? Stay off social media? Disconnect yourself from the hive mind? How can you even consider it? Important discussions will go without your input! You'll lack crucial information! And cat photos! What if everyone misses you? Worse still, what if they don't miss you?

Get lost, monkey. I lived without social media for the first 27 years or so of my life, I think I can handle another three days. All I did was disable notifications on my phone and remove the shortcuts from the home screen. I didn't even uninstall the apps, and I work in front of a computer and can sneakily check Facebook at any time, but that slight barrier was enough to keep me off for a few days.

The really addictive part of social media, as its developers know very well, is that little flashing light to indicate new notifications. How exciting! What could they be? Hide the shiny thing, and social media loses its insidious pull factor.

In fact, it was kind of restful. If I had a few minutes to spare, I'd read news sites on my phone, or pick up a book or magazine. If I stayed off social media in the long term, I'd miss the updates from friends and family who live far away. I wouldn't miss the ads, or the information that friends-of-friends who I've never met changed their profile pictures.

I'm back on Facebook and Twitter now, but I've left the notifications on my phone switched off. I'm happy this way. I'll dip into them when I have nothing better to do, not when the shiny thing appears. The people who might urgently need to contact me have my email address and phone number.

This is just my personal preference. If you like having the notifications on, or need to for professional reasons, so be it. I want social media to work for me, not the other way around. If you find yourself working for social media, then I hope you are being well paid, or at least being paid.

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