- Introduction to Social Media in the Anthropocene
How can a tweet, brief and immediate, encapsulate deep time? When Sverker Sörlin in 2014 claimed, “The Anthropocene is still on Twitter,” he invited exploration into the form and content of social media and the Anthropocene for the scholarly community.1 This special issue opens a space for conversations about how social media, digitization, and inter-disciplinarity work on and in the Anthropocene to transform conventions, boundaries, and accessibility to academic publication. This is reflected in the publication process of the special issue itself, which used an open review to explore how social media can allow for mechanisms of quality control that are more transparent and inclusive.
Social media magnifies different strands of environmental debate and reflects a growing number of actors taking part in shaping these topics. That said, we are not advocating for academics to enter the marketplace of social media, adopt the latest platform, or worship its cult of linking, sharing, and geocoding. You may find life just as meaningful if you go off-line and learn how to die in the Anthropocene.2 But what we do aim for is to begin in earnest using social media to explore, critique, and imagine the Anthropocene and its importance for academic labor.
The Anthropocene: Imagination . . .
The Anthropocene is the term proposed by Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen to name a new geological epoch caused by the effect of human activities [End Page 1] on the geological conditions and processes of the planet.3 Whether approached as Crutzen’s structural perspective on an overarching geological epoch or as an idea that brings to the fore human embeddedness in geological time, the Anthropocene invites you to think of how the world is (un)made anew. Social media and the Anthropocene meet, we argue, in what Arjun Appadurai calls the “work of the imagination” as media play a central role in making it possible to imagine and construct possible lives and worlds.4
The challenge that the sheer scale of the Anthropocene presents to such imaginings could be considered a “crisis of the imagination”—a phrase first used to describe climate change.5 Media and its space-time compression allow the distant to be brought within reach. John Durham Peters thinks of culture as a means to downsize a general environmental crisis to specific faces and formats in an effort to find metaphors for the crisis.6 The environmental crisis is, at the moment, a crisis of imagination as well as of communication. In anticipation of environmental catastrophes, potential futures become part of the meaning of the present. The actual and the imagined meet, are held together, and create tensions. Hence, as Beck and Willms note, “not only is the future indeterminate, but its indeterminacy is part of the meaning of the present.”7 Phenomena such as climate change can be “dramatized or minimized, transformed or simply denied, according to the norms which decide what is known and what is not.”8
In this sense, Mike Hulme illustrates the many reasons and ways in which people disagree about the very existence, characteristics, or implications of human-induced problems such as climate change. Part of the reason for disagreement, according to Hulme, is that climate is not a problem to be solved but is an “imaginative idea” through which to voice other ongoing societal issues.9 As Joni Adamson claims, “Imagination . . . is the first step towards solution.”10 For academic debate on the Anthropocene, these attempts at imagination correspond to analyses of the media used when working with the concept of the Anthropocene. In the dialogue between researchers, media, and the public, there are new platforms of social media central to how the Anthropocene is imagined. One indicative example of the process is the hydra-like etymology and decoupling of names with which different disciplines engage with or challenge the Anthropocene.11 As McKenzie Wark notes, [End Page 2]
Let’s invent new metaphors! Personally, I like the #misanthropocene, but don’t expect it to catch on. Jason Moore prefers the Capitalocene, Jussi Parikka the Anthrobscene. Kate Raworth...