Prompted social engagement is the new social conformity. In Mario Vargas Llosa’s Notes on the Death of Culture, he says that “In our times, artists are not expected to show talent or skill but rather affectation and scandal, and their daring statements are nothing more than the masks of new conformity.” We see it everywhere – social media celebrities, YouTube stars, and other people who have gathered an impressive following – are publishing books and making social and political statements. Their words and personas are held in sanctity regardless of their true ability for deliberate criticism of the current socio-political climate. Where we see formulated stances, we see conformity. Clusters of high-exposure individuals group around topics of immediate relevance. There is little or no follow-up. Causes of tremendous importance gain instant traction but do not yield longterm attention.
The worries of last week are not the same as this week. Yesterday we saw social media feeds filled with images and statements regarding gun control. Today we see toned and muted proclamations against sexual violence. A large portion of people are quick to forget the problems unless another incident arises. Immediate involvement through impassioned statement and monetary donation serve to satiate the primal emotional response we have to the horrific events that we are impacted by. We momentarily feel we’ve done enough. As a society, we wait to be prompted for a reminder of what we’re supposed to fight and address. The influx of reminders create a steady wave of prompted engagement.
Prompted social engagement serves the image of the social media figure when the response is deemed appropriate. In political situations that do not involve casualties, you may see a comedic approach to the subject matter. Where casualties are involved, you may see highly visible declarations explaining sadness for the situation. When seeing enough of these, we may begin to feel they’re a formality that comes with being in a socially exposed position. Though the sentiments may be authentic, they are presented in a short-lived medium that quickly becomes clotted with promotional, comedic, and other material representative of the public persona.
The social media feed tells a tale of quick, formulated interjections. The disjointedness of messages makes for a stilted narrative. The feed is a fragmentation, and calls to human action are wedged between non-correlative information. It’s a form of heightened juxtaposition. Engagement is prompted in two layers. First, the sources of social leverage formulate statements, to which individuals respond through interaction with those statements. While unpleasant, appeasement comes from the politically correct formulation of the events. Gratification comes from engagement with the proper content that aligns with the outer, branded image of the individual.
This is not to say that people should restrict or refrain from addressing catastrophic social events. It is simply to recognize the role of social figures in social engagement. It is further a call to recognize that we wait to be prompted by formulated announcements from media outlets, whether corporations or individual brands. We should be careful to recognize overly political-correct methods of addressing current issues. We need also to recognize our role in the hyper-pigmented current of immediate response. Colored commentary may fade faster than well-formulated responses that consider the issues more deeply. Lest we forget the issues until re-prompted, we may do well to censor urgency in response if it only serves our public image.
Prompted social engagement serves in a moment to engage a sense of togetherness in agreement. However, it is often short lived and many times unable to make for lasting change. The fixation on change and dramatic reform are new modes of conformity. The social figure responds appropriately along the wave of timely reply to the prompted social engagement. Trigger and counter. Prompt and answer.