It has been broadly observed that the Internet, generally speaking, has shifted subtly but swiftly from a culture of comment to a culture of Liking.
To be sure, some ideas are worth spreading… but let us not rush to the conclusion the inherent worth of an idea is determined by its sharability.
Imagine sitting with a group friends who randomly spurt out the titles of articles that they have read. That’s interesting, you think to yourself. So you look up some of the articles and read them yourself. Then you spurt out the title to another group of friends, who are spurting out their own circulation of titles too. Other than impressing one another with our bibliographic prowess, what has all this spurting accomplished?
This may be a contemporary heresy, but I’ll venture to posit that link sharing itself is not necessarily a social behaviour. Just ask any reformist or revolutionary: the influence of a tract or treatise is not simply the degree to which it is read, but rather extent to which it mobilizes discourse. In other words, unless we talk about an idea — to say nothing of genuinely acting on it — we are accomplishing little more than spurting out article titles to one another.
Furthermore, we must ask: if we measure digital influence solely on the basis of who’s spurts garner the most reads, then how exactly are we defining influence in the first place? Could it be that this notion of influence has incentivized spurting, not discussing?
If everyone shared everything they thought was compelling, all the time, eventually nothing would be meaningful anymore: the more I rebroadcast every signal that comes across my radar, the more uncertain and fuzzy your metric for understanding my values becomes. The more I share, the more difficult it becomes for you tease the wheat from the chaff.
Despite my overuse of “spurting” as a pejorative term, I do not wish to suggest that sharing links is itself somehow “wrong” or morally inappropriate. I simply wish to contemplate my own agenda and aim for doing so. Instead of submitting ideas into the digital ether with a shotgun in the hopes that something will be rebroadcasted again by someone else, what if my overall goal in sharing a link was to initiate dialogue? In other words, what if my litmus test for “Should I post this?” is, simply, “Am I willing to devote the time and energy that would be required to gather with others to discuss this?”
To help prioritize the decision as to what I share, what if I self limited myself to, say, just one idea a day? I imagine a self-imposed curation of value: everything I share on a global network worthy of this article lead: “Out of all the data that I have sifted through in the past twenty-four hours, I believe that this idea most warrants our attention and engagement. Who else is willing to discuss how this knowledge or perspective this might affect our lives and communities?”
Perhaps the goal is not simply to find ideas worth spreading, but rather ideas worth discussing.