The dangers of social media

Social media are transforming our world in ways similar to the advent of the Internet. Yes, their influence is THAT profound. But are those influences beneficial?

Well, the positive side is that they do facilitate communication and in that sense alone they have the potential to be beneficial. Regrettably so much of that potential is wasted.

Like the internet, social media give us access to vast quantities of information: more material than has ever been conceived in the history of humankind. It is an enormous privilege to have so much usable data at our fingertips: truly emancipating because it gives us the keys to achieve.
Yet there is something disturbing about how this opportunity is being squandered. The biggest concern is the preoccupation with useless information.

Consider Facebook. Yes, it enables people to connect. It is truly emancipating for many people in that context. But what information is shared? Sadly, a huge proportion of Facebook messaging is absolute rubbish: meaningless, inconsequential trivia that is more embarrassing than valuable.
It is voyeurism taken to a new level and it reflects no credit on any of the participants. That people are so self-obsessed as to tell the world they have just gone to the shops or changed their clothes or what they have just eaten is frightening. Get over yourselves! You are not an object of endless fascination for the rest of us.

And what of those who actually spend a good deal of their existence vicariously living the lives of others: how scary are they?
But the overarching concern about social media, especially for young people, is that is trains them to be superficial. News feeds now are shallow; they report the basic facts and leave it at that. The quest for immediacy means that both news organisations and audiences are always striving for the next thing. Something that happened a little while ago – even in terms of minutes or hours – becomes passé as this new, relentless quest for titillation leads us to become a society of skinny-dippers: information consumers who rarely delve into the substance of an issue.

We are losing the capacity for reflection: to stop and think about what things actually mean, rather than merely registering that something has happened. The mental conditioning is that something else will happen shortly and if we want to be seen as ‘on top of things’ we will be alert for that next new event.

But try engaging these in discussion of something newsworthy and the deficiency becomes immediately apparent. Their knowledge is shallow and their understanding is scant. They lose the capacity to assess the meaning of an event.

The enormous tragedy is that this meaning is what becomes wisdom. And we now have two generations who are losing that ability very rapidly. Does that promise a bright, new future?

As has been the case throughout history: innovation, if not used well, can sow the seeds of destruction. Just think of fast food.