The shallowness of social media


 There’s something very sad about the rise of social media: SMS, Twitter, Facebook and their ilk. Like a big feed of fast food, they offer instant gratification that titillates the taste buds but later there is only a congealed staleness in your gut and no sense of repleteness at all.

Taking social media at face value leads many to see them as a good thing. After all, they offer the masses an easy means of engaging others and voicing opinions. In that sense, they do expand our ability to interact with wider audiences. But the price for the convenience of such easy swapping of messages is a dumbing-down of what we say.

SMS, or Short Message Service, was hailed as a great innovation when it first arrived on the social scene. It enabled people to send text messages almost anywhere at any time. Yet at what cost? SMS has massively reduced the need for face-to-face conversations and mediated them via keypads. The most notable ‘benefit’ of that has been to foster, in young people particularly, a dexterity of thumbs that would do the great apes proud.

Regrettably it has also regressed their language and conversational capacity back to a level that is again not dissimilar to that of the great apes. Many a blank stare, lots of grunting, some vapid smiles and once more with the twirling thumbs. I love sharing meaning with young people. Yeah, right!

Now, them’s fighting words, I accept. And my very broad generalisations do demean lots of young people. But there’s a very strong element of truth in there, too.

They have become so addicted to – not just the instant messaging of their screens – but the instant gratification of constant sensory stimulus. They crave the constant lottery of surprise to see who may be contacting them or what other people are saying. It really is well-nigh impossible to hold their attention – without digital /electronic input – for more than half an hour. I know, I teach them at university level and it is frustrating beyond belief.

It could easily be said that I am just an appallingly boring lecturer.  And I’m certainly a long way from perfect but that really isn’t the issue. A stimulus dependency has enveloped the bulk of our young population. We still ban marijuana and its influence is far less intrusive or affective in many cases than texting, sexting or tweeting.

It is also disturbing that so many young people enjoy vicariously living other people’s lives as they trawl constantly through the dross and banality of the activities that many social media addicts think are worthwhile sharing with the world.

Gotta tell ya, folks, your lives are not exciting.  Do something that does not involve electronic mediation and then you might have something of potential value to share.