Let’s all take a moment to appreciate birds flying in unison together. Here are a couple of videos.
Here’s another one.
Isn’t that nice and relaxing?
Now let’s talk about how people are just like those birds, moving in flocks together via the tweets and twerps of social media.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let us consider how birds and other animals manage to move together as they do. I perused this lengthy article, which talked about several different theories that have cropped up over the years. Here is another article that is a bit more succinct.
Since you’re probably not going to click either of those links, I’ll give you a quick summary. The birds on the edge of the flock react to something, such as the appearance of food or a predator, which initiates an action. The first bird’s neighbors mimic the action, and the rest of the flock, always anticipating changes, reacts quickly. A wave of reaction rolls over the entire flock, giving the appearance of a dance in the sky, like a feathered chorus line.
It only takes one bird to initiate the action. And usually, that bird is on the edge of the flock. Keep these ideas in mind.
Now let’s look at people. Specifically, let’s look at something I’m sure you’re as sick of hearing about as I am: Starbuck’s red cups.
Do you know anyone that actually cared about the cups at Starbucks before the supposed controversy began? I’m sure a few people have opinions now that our news and social feeds are full of trivial news articles and memes. But who cared before Ellen or Bristol Palin weighed in on the matter?
Why are we so distracted by something so trivial?
Because we anticipated something like this. Before the red cups were in the news, people began posting memes about Christmas being celebrated too early. We posted memes about the evils of Christmas decorations and music before Halloween. And we posted memes about the war on Christmas, and the virtues of people saying Merry Christmas to each other.
The pump was primed for a manufactured controversy. And so now we have it, in all of its pointless, cardboard glory.
The reality is that most people don’t look at the cup containing their decaf soy latte. And when they do, the cardboard sleeve is probably blocking most of the cup, anyway. And also, no one cares, except a few people on the edge of the flock.
I, for one, will drink my overpriced coffee with peace in my heart, happy to be blessed with good health and a loving family.
But for just a moment, I took a step back and looked at all of us, flailing about, following our neighbors in a complicated social media dance. Like ten thousand starlings at sunset, we reacted and moved as a single flock.
Unlike watching the birds, I find very little beauty or peace in the way we are moving together. I just find it tiring, and a little bit depressing.