lovehate: Tension and Release in Social Media


In exploring the archetypes of any media (and especially entertainment media) I like to think that there are fairly common standards in which my emotions are tugged at for enjoyment's sake. Though the paradigm can be exercised in many ways, depending on the medium, I like to simplify the pattern by commonly calling it "Tension and Release".

In music, tension and release can occur in many ways. Sometimes it's a musician simply playing with volume. Think of the grunge standard of the quiet verse followed by the loud chorus ala Smells Like Teen Spirit or Creep. While these examples are very basic approaches to tension and release (T&R) volume, made effective by immediate contrast, slow builds culminating in auditory climaxes have been around from early drumming to classical to jazz to rock. But music also allows for T&R through harmony and dissonance, varying speeds, rhythmic complexity and simplicity, and varying tonal densities. How many people have had cerebral orgasms upon hearing the cutting single guitar bend that breaks through repetitive vamp of a chord progression?

The basic concepts of T&R extend to novels, films, poetry, visual arts, and basically any other sensory media. It's why the action film often inserts comic relief. 120 minutes of non-stop action eventually becomes wallpaper without contrast in the same way that thrash metal bands have to consider some sense of dynamics if they don't wish to become redundant.

So, I ask myself the question. If most (maybe all) of enjoyable entertainment consumption contains T&R, where does paradigm fit, if at all, with Social Media or Networking. While set pieces like songs, films, and novels have, at their core, a sense of time constraint that contributes to the anticipatory set that one comes to the medium with, what which set do we approach Social Media?

The problems that arise in applying such parameters (and I'll fully admit the marriage of this paradigm may seem forced with SM) lie in the multi-pronged creative approach to the content output. It's kind of like a freeform jazz odyssey with musicians from virtuoso's to drunken karaoke performers. But I think the tools have offered some parallels that help to form the T&R of Social Media.

Twitter is the noisy, fast, guitar solo full of notes that run the gamut of multi-octave scales. Facebook is the dissonant amalgam of everything we want and don't want at the same time. Seesmic is the sample ripped from another artist and dropped in to the pastiche of sound. Youtube is the brief respite leaving the cacophony of sound behind for a time... well, to be replaced by other sound anyway. And blogs are the deep sweeping textures and swaths of sound that allow us to escape for periods of time and consume by... reading. How can all of these content creators possibly orchestrate anything so intentional as an artisitic process like T&R? They don't - you do.

In the ultimate vindication of "reader response" theories, we inherently mix or consumption to achieve appropriate T&R. I could just use Twitter all day or watch Youtube clips or sift through pictures of people's kids in Facebook. I can, however, mix and match, often by instinct to achieve the ebb and flow that best suit my sensibility. Because like anything, there is an "artistic" component if you fly high enough or zoom in enough.

And if you haven't bought any of this, consider the experience of reading it nothing more than the the long sustained notes of a Klaus Schulze composition or the outer movements of Shine On You Crazy Diamond. You may now return to the metal solo.