With the passing of Amendment 1, my Facebook feed has been flooded with reactions.
Voter intimidation: One family held close as they cast their ballot while protestors yelled, “homosexual marriage endangers children!” Fear about losing insurance: An unmarried, straight couple is unsure how they will pay their medical bills. Even a glance at Facebook tells you that heterosexual and same-sex couples, transgender and queer couples and children have all been materially and emotionally affected by the vote against equality.
Local debates become national discussions through social media. Almost instantly, news is posted and redistributed across vast networks of Facebook friends, often accompanied with personal comments. We continually engage one another; the second is now an archaically slow unit of measure to describe the computer-processing speedsnanoseconds (one billionth) and picoseconds (one trillionth)at which we interact.
Through Facebook we share fragments from our lives: our likes, favorite pictures, political ideals and whom we love. But I don’t think social media is a dystopian force that intensifies our alienation. Facebook has made information sticky by allowing us to trace the sources of the newsconnection, not disassociation.
But how has social media shaped our political lives? Communication theorist Marshall McLuhan famously taught us “the medium is the message.” He meant that the devices we use to get informationtelevisions, computers, iPhonesshape how we understand that information. The “message,” for instance, of a newscast about same-sex marriage is less about the content than the change in attitude toward gays and lesbian, because the story is brought into the home.
Hunched over my computer, fingering a touchpad streaked with oily prints, I read about President Obama’s support of gay marriageNewsweek heralds him as “The First Gay President” on the May cover. The Newsweek cover troubles a Facebook friend; she reads it as conflating race and sexuality in order to mobilize racism and homophobia. Our first black president is also our first gay president: Race has always been sexualized, and African-American masculinity is often challenged. I “like” her comment.
The Facebook “like” is a remarkable technology through which we become part of the production and dissemination of information. Our “likes” are tracked and converted into automated ads. That tiny English word, “like,” builds out agreeable associations: How satisfying it feels when your post is liked, a part of the friendly web of updated statuses, “likes,” “shares” and “comments.
Another post questions the concentration of political energy in support of marriage, an institution criticized by some LGBTQ communities, especially radical feminist and lesbian communities. Attached to the post is Urvashi Vaid’s “Still Ain’t Satisfied: The Limits of Equality,” in which she concludes that marriage equality will not give gays and lesbians greater inclusion into civic lifeequality is not equivalent to justice. Just as racial and gender equalities have not resolved employment injustice or discrimination, nor will marriage solve homophobia and institutional heterosexism. The conditions of exclusion are left intact even though fairness seems the motivation.
I share, and add, “The rights and benefits of marriage should be extended to all people, not only those who choose marriage. If rights are not afforded to all citizens, then how is marriage equality anything but a reinforcement of the regulatory power of the state to normalize the form of family?”
A friend comments, “Why should we prioritize marriage equality over the urgent needs for reproductive rights, economic justice, anti-racist activism, anti-imperialism, immigration rights, environmentalism, and transgender equality?”
That person attaches information from the 2009 National Transgender Discrimination Survey that finds 40 percent of transgender people in the United States do not have health insurance and experience double the rate of unemployment as the general population. They are four times more likely to live in poverty. Transgender people face near universal harassment on the job, and nearly half of those have come up against homelessness and eviction. Why indeed should marriage equality be the prime concern of national LGB organizations? I “like” this too.
Some Facebook users remind their friends that North Carolina’s Amendment 1 is about more than same-sex marriage. Sponsors of the amendment intended to strengthen the Republican stronghold in North Carolina by forcing wedges between communities. In a swing state, the ability to fracture political alliances is necessary to win. Case in point. Predominately white pro-Amendment organizations helped marshal stereotypes that African-American communities are disproportionately homophobic, capitalizing on racial tensions.
Nevertheless, Facebook blooms with videos of African-American pastors proclaiming the immorality of same sex marriage. Frustrations mount, and friends post angry reminders that North Carolina law still allows first cousins to marry, and that the last time North Carolina amended its constitution on the subject of marriage was to ban interracial marriage. Across user pages, North Carolina is described as an incestuous backwater populated by Klan members, serving only to reinforce class divides, particularly rural and urban divides, while veiling the real forces behind the Amendment.
The quick turnover of Facebook, its real-time involvement and the shortness of tags and messages affect our conversations about Amendment 1. The fast-paced medium requires quick engagement. We comment on issues we only have a general feel for, or sometimes re-share without reading. Time is social, as is the lack of it. The heavy flow of stories causes today’s news to hastily recede into history, archived only in our Facebook timelines.
Friends describe Facebook as a “time suck.” Updated newsfeeds are so addictive that people place “Self Control” applications on their computers. Time is a nonrenewable resource, or so Facebook teaches us. Time is compressed and absorbed through nonstop interchange. Connections are intensified, and interactions move faster and faster. Starved for time, we all feel we never have enough time.
Time is certainly nonrenewable for transgender people without health insurance or homes, or for children in North Carolina afraid that their family is threatened. Time is running out on the 2012 presidential election. Like twigs and sticks caught in a spring current, social media rafts us together into new solidaritiesholy and unholyin the rapidly emptying channels of its newsfeed. Virtual time overtakes clock time to meet the demands of flexible accumulation24/7 has become our greatest export.
We are now focused on equal rights for LGBT communities, but it seems to me that our next social justice movement has to be temporal justice: The right to unscheduled time, down time and creative time.
As for marriage equality, it is only a matter of time.