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Valving is actually a term that I made up around the time of the 2016 election of Donald Trump and have used in passing over the last few years as I've seen its relevance climb. I use it with intent to describe a very particular outcome of the ubiquity of social media presence in our daily lives in the Westernized world (as well as across much of the globe).

As I'm defining it here, valving is the process by which one releases mental and emotional pressure specifically by posting rants or writings on social media, specifically around political outcomes or in response to the implementation of policies one finds repressive, to be 'liked', shared, affirmed and sometimes deepened through comments on a social media platform. I have heard the act referred to as "shouting into the abyss" elsewhere, though that only encompasses the action, rather than the outcome. (To clarify, I am referring to individuals without much real political power or sway, individuals of the public population; I am only referring to the reactionary impulse of these people towards the screen to express outrage and emotion, achieving some catharsis, and diverting this energy away from some in-person interaction. I am not referring to everything else that social media does for individuals and communities, nor its myriad uses to achieve tangible actions.)

In my observations, the result of this semi-public/semi-anonymous and disembodied method of dealing with political pressures insidiously invites the feeling that something has been accomplished, akin to a tangible action, when in reality the only accomplishment is an immaterial affirmation of some oppositional and constructed identity (consciously or not) that goes little distance beyond the user's profile and online persona ("all talk and no game"; in the case of social media "influencers" these stances may indeed reach thousands of followers, possibly helping to form their opinions and gather opposition, but who knows in truth). It is an impulsive misguided channeling of (usually) honestly enraged energy towards the maintaining of an internet identity, of social capital of a certain flavor, in place of directing energy towards in-person organizing, community gathering, or action taking of a material kind. In my observations people who valve frequently tend not to think that their actions taken will stop there, but rather see it as part of a lead up to some greater organizing endeavor they envision themselves to take part in; my argument is that more often than not this valving lets just enough pressure off to delay or prevent altogether this jump from personal outrage to collective action. As more people take to social media first to relate their raw feelings, more see by example and are encouraged that it is the "normal" or "natural" thing to do, bringing more users to these platforms and keeping them around their screens longer (and delaying in-person action) than if social media were purely a platform for keeping in touch or sharing logistics.

I believe it is a reflection of the postmodern condition of the coupled 1) erosion of the public commons as default in-person meeting place and 2) its ever encroaching and all-encompassing replacement with privatized and individualized online platforms, complete with entire industries of wealth backing habit-encouraging and ever more ubiquitous references in media of all types. In my mind, as someone who grew up instep the first stages of social media proliferation (beyond Myspace, into the Facebook era 2003-2009), it echoes the shift of priorities pushed on 21st century Westernized consumers towards investing energy in the creation and maintenance of the personal image and social capital to represent their existence in the digital public, seemingly surpassing in import ones material influences in the locus-based public sphere. The fact that the default knee-jerk reaction to disturbing political news is often now to take to whichever social media platform one shouts from the most, rather than to call up ones friends/family/community to meet up, is disturbing evidence enough to me.

Further Materials:


Shooting a Revolution: Visual Media and Warfare in Syria -- Donatella Della Ratta

Social Media Abyss: Critical Internet Cultures and the Force of Negation -- Geert Lovink