Thursday, January 25, 2018

Social media is making us dumber

Jesse Singal writes about how social media twists our understanding of things. Case in point: Harvard professor and intellectual Steven Pinker who, in a clip, was shown to refer to “the often highly literate, highly intelligent people who gravitate to the alt-right” as “internet savvy” and “media savvy.”

But this wasn't actually the case. Singal argues:

The idea that Mr. Pinker, a liberal, Jewish psychology professor, is a fan of a racist, anti-Semitic online movement is absurd on its face, so it might be tempting to roll your eyes and dismiss this blowup as just another instance of social media doing what it does best: generating outrage.

He unpacks his observation:

But it’s actually a worthwhile episode to unpack, because it highlights a disturbing, worsening tendency in social media in which tribal allegiances are replacing shared empirical understandings of the world. Or maybe “subtribal” is the more precise, fitting term to use here. It’s one thing to say that left and right disagree on simple facts about the world — this sort of informational Balkanization has been going on for a while and long predates Twitter. What social media is doing is slicing the salami thinner and thinner, as it were, making it harder even for people who are otherwise in general ideological agreement to agree on basic facts about news events.

That’s because the pernicious social dynamics of these online spaces hammer home the idea that anyone who disagrees with you on any controversial subject, even a little bit, is incorrigibly dumb or evil or suspect. On a wide and expanding range of issues, there’s no such thing as good-faith disagreement.

This phenomenon isn't unique to America.

The last time I logged on to Facebook—something I do more often these days because it's the only way to get in touch with friends from high school (they've changed phone numbers since our graduation)—I saw angry posts about Mocha Uson receiving an award from a UST alumni body. The comments were degrading, the attacks personal. I read posts on the contrary, too—people cheering for Mocha but with the occasional deluge of hateful remarks about veteran journalist Karen Davila who had suggested that Mocha should consider giving the award back—a suggestion which, to me, sounded considerate, respectful, and in good faith.

Whatever happened to disagreeing agreeably?

A helpful rule a colleague told me was: don't write anything on social media what you can't say to another in his face. Philippians 4:8 is also instructive—just replace "think" with "post."

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Social media carries with it anonymity, the steroid that enables cowards to spread their hate and ignorance. When we're at the point where we can no longer distinguish the good from the bad, the truth from the lies, we must consider leaving.

1 comment:

  1. Not that anyone will actually think they've reached that point. The ones that leave do so out of self-preservation or disgust.

    ReplyDelete

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