YOU and The Way Social Media Tells the Story

My wife and I have been watching the television show, YOU, for the past few weeks, creeping out on the storyline. Besides shouting at the television for all the narrative holes in the plot (there are many) and for characters not seeing the obvious, it’s been sort of fascinating to watch how social media is baked into the fabric of the show of obsession.

This isn’t the first television show to necessarily do this — use social media and technology as a key storytelling device — (see Black Mirror for other examples) but YOU utilizes it so well for telling the story over an entire season — for the obsessive surveillance of one character over another (usually Joe watching Beck but sometimes Beck watching Joe); for a character who is a social media influencer, as her job; for creating fake accounts to create a false reality; for ghosting people and people worried about being ghosted; for tracking people down through bits of information; and more.

Wikipedia notes:

As You is situated in modern day New York City, it explores the dangers of social media culture with an emphasis on a lack of digital privacy.

Mobile phones for these young adults living in New York City are never far away from any character in the show, and when one character – Beck, a writer, of all things, who’s at the heart of Joe’s obsession — has her devices and apps and router all shut off by a colleague so she can actually write, the cold-turkey-syndrome of being so bored we see her pacing her apartment, doing all sorts of things (other than writing, alas) before finally giving in and booting up her router.

This might be you. Or me.

Television has long been a window on culture, if often slightly warped by narrative design. YOU is one of those shows, reflecting our desire to be connected to the stories of others and to project our own version of stories for others to read. YOU also shows us the surveillance state we have allowed ourselves to be part of, where tracking the histories and present of another is often as simple as following accounts, where we openly and freely share lots of information.

YOU uses this digital connection to creep us out with how the digital world feeds and nurtures obsessions. Maybe we should pay attention a bit more to what it is telling us about our world out here, beyond the screen, too.

Peace (go dark),

  1. This presents a terrible choice.

    I read your article, and am commenting, because we connected via social media, and I have your blog on my Inoreader feed, which I learned about from Terry Elliott, who I also connect with on social media. Yesterday Sheri Edwards, showed a post where she had started using cMap tools, somewhat inspired by my own use of these tools. None of these connections would be happening if I were not so fully connected in various social media.

    And yet, the ways others can find and use data about me and my habits, to try to influence me to do things they want me to do, is of great concern.

    So far I accept the trade off. Will I regret it in the future? I don’ t know.

  2. I hear you and other’s concern for Facebook. However, I have an extended family, with members stretched from Vancouver to Philadelphia, with many, many nieces and nephews. Facebook is the only place where I’m seeing regular updates and able to have some level of interaction.

    It’s also the platform where I’m connected to many former students from the tutor/mentor programs I’ve led, going back to the 1970s. Seeing some of them talk about their successes, and the success of their kids, is really gratifying.And, I see the continuing stream of tragedy caused by poverty and racism.

    I can also stay part of their lives. Right now I’m sharing on Twitter the need for a donor kidney for the boy/man I first started tutoring in 1973.

    I’ve also connected with an international network of social entrepreneurs on FB in much the same ways that I’ve connected to clmooc on G+, then Twitter. It’s roots go back to 2011.

    Among the data privacy concerns there are many others. For instance, some in my family tree have strong GOP and religious right beliefs that I don’t support. When they post these I’m usually to block from my timeline, or ignore, but I don’t want to unfriend them, since in the end, we’re family.

    So, no. I’ve not walked away from Facebook.

  3. My best friend and I also had a long discussion about this show. (We too were yelling at the TV because of the many, MANY plot holes. Also, the fact that Beck has no curtains in New York City.) Anyway, we were discussing the importance of how social media works today. There’s a sense of need and confirmation that people today seem to need.

    However, because of the type of platforms we have, it’s challenging to shut off instant justification. (Because let’s be honest…it’s feel nice to have constant attention, compliments, and people being envious of a glamorous life that is staged, am I right?)

    I believe this show was a wakeup call for not only my generation (a millennial) but for anyone who is an active social media user and for the upcoming generation. I don’t believe social media is “bad,” however, we have lost a certain awareness and humanlike instinct when it comes to our privacy. There should be more privacy, and if we come across someone who just so happens to show up at a fair, they obviously would never be at…watch your back.😬

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