Would your favorite literary/cinematic character use social media?

tl;dr – No. They wouldn’t.

However, I can think of a few examples – ok make that one example – that would be intriguing.

  • Newt Scamander’s (Harry Potter) Instagram feed would be outstanding.

(Although I’m sure Fletch (eponymous) would have evolved with the times enough to be great on Twitter, and maybe we’d have finally gotten the details on that off-track betting in the Himalayas… but I digress.)

I suspect much of my difficulty in picturing social media use in works of fiction is simply due to the newness of the medium. The oldest of the services has only been around for a decade or so, and I think it’ll simply take some time for social media to pop up in enough genres and types of work in a way that will make it feel common. I would have expected to see David Foster Wallace incorporate bits of it sooner than later, for example. More importantly, though, I think it’s all just a little too unlike anything that’s come before to have been incorporated. I can think of plenty of examples of characters who might have blogged, but blogging is just writing, and authors (screenwriters, etc) have been using writing as plot augmentation since forever.

We’ve also seen examples of newer communications styles such as emails show up in books and movies, and Sherlock (the BBC series) did a wonderful job of implementing texting into the visual medium of television. Of course, neither of those are social media, either, and are probably closer to pure writing.

However, and I’ll admit that I’m biased, I think the greater issues at play are that social media is fundamentally boring, doesn’t naturally (nor easily) show you content that you really want to see (NOR easily promote content you create), and is at best, an inefficient time-waster.

(cf this article that suggests that Zuck himself doesn’t actually use Facebook… nor would I, if I had the resources to have someone else do it, and wanted to promote myself. I have neither of those things, so.)

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Personally, I gave up Twitter a handful of months ago, and haven’t missed it at all. It was an active distraction to whatever I was also doing, at best (and humans can’t actually multi-task anyway), and frankly the medium, even at 256 characters, doesn’t give you enough room to be insightful without the dreaded ‘thread’, at which point you might as well be blogging. I intended to drop Facebook at the time as well, but honestly it’s too valuable for me for networking (you know, the thing it was designed for) to completely give up. Instagram’s timeline is now a pile of hot garbage, newly set aflame, and in spite of following some genuinely inspirational artists, it also feels like a general waste of time.

Frankly, social media feels very late 20th/21st century American to me. The myth that you’re to believe is that you can stay in touch with friends, stay up to date on news, influence the world, and make money, all by documenting your incredible life and/or thoughts and/or skills. It’s ‘so easy’. None of it’s particularly true, but it’s a nice little dream I guess.

For what it’s worth, I’ll admit that my own journey with social media got corrupted as people started to ask me if I was making money from my photography. It’s an innocent question, and I know it stems from a regard for my work, but it led me down a path that more or less ended in my feeling like a failure for not monetizing my art. Along the way I started to chase getting those ‘likes’ (etc) on everything I posted, and feeling more or less validated by how high the total rose, than simply creating organically because it was something I enjoyed.

I don’t have answers here. But I think it’s worth having the conversation, at least to ask yourself the question: Why are you doing the things you do?

P.S. I am interested to know if you can think of characters that would have interesting social media accounts. Hit me up if you think you’ve got a good one.