Is Social Media Play?

In my initial blog post, Social Media as Play, I stated that social media websites perfectly fit Johan Huizinga’s definition of play from Homo Ludens by satisfying the following criteria: freedom, inherent activity, and its limitation of time and space. While for the most part, I agree with my original claims, upon second glance I felt that there was much more to add.

In terms of my original argument, as a whole, technology, and social media in particular, have an increasingly necessary place in all our lives. Particularly for our generation, it has become rather difficult to get around its uses. I don’t think you’ll find a college student in a greater panic than when the Wi-Fi mysteriously shuts down at 11:59pm just as he or she is about to submit a paper online (I sure hope I’m not foreshadowing the success of my night). While this other dimension of the human race has become rather irreplaceable in its value, it was an idea we as a society bought in to. We volunteered our lives, our pictures, our interests, and our time—we signed up for this game. According to Huizinga’s definition of play, social media is a game that we keep on playing.

I remain firm on my stance in regards to the three criteria previously mentioned, but I believe there are certainly discrepancies worth analyzing according to Huizinga’s theory. Aside from the characteristics in general, Huizinga suggests that ‘players’ assume that the function of play is motivated by potential benefits, which in the case of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, seem to be positive feedback on pictures and status updates. However that idea is also quite contradictory in it of itself as any potential benefits in this field would be seen as extrinsic—the number of likes on a profile picture isn’t a direct pathway to an inner self confidence boost, but rather the sheer scope of people that were viewing what someone posted for all to see in hopes of positive responses.

There is no doubt that my use of social media is inherent. My online routine is ingrained in me. The second I wake up in the morning my laptop is open and three pages are instantly loaded: my umich gmail, Facebook, and Twitter. Before I can step out of my bed and into the real world I need to be caught up, for fear that some major news might have occurred during my sleeping hours. Facebook and Twitter are my main source of real world news and my own personal world news, also known as the latest up to date info on all of my friends.

Inherent in this realm however can be a dangerous term. Blogger Steven Corona, a businessman who receives his business from social media, decided to go 30 days without Facebook, Twitter, and the likes. During this withdrawal period he still found himself opening an Internet browser and unconsciously typing http://www.faceboo—until he would catch himself. Did Huizinga ever mention whether play had to be positive? It certainly didn’t create a positive resolve of order in Corona’s life.

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While yes, social media can create tension, provide an outlet of make believe for its users, and certainly produces social groups, it definitely does not always create order or represent something immaterial, two important aspects Huizinga highlights in his theory. Social media and its results can be particularly volatile in the teenage age group. Comments and messages can quickly become hurtful methods of cyber bullying, a practice that in no way creates order. The extrinsic attention that comes from ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ occurs when we allow other people to qualify our lives and appearances in superficial and material ways.

Johan Huizinga’s definition of play is certainly not simple. There is truly no clear answer to what should have been my initial question instead of the claim with which I titled my blog. Is social media play? In a lot of ways yes, whether simply for a distraction from daily life and responsibility, a competition between a better presentation of profiles with others, or just keeping up with the news, social media is all just game play. But there are definitely discrepancies as with all political theory—there’s an argument from any angle.