Social Media is NOT evil

I often joke that “…facebook is a necesary evil.” Do I think Facebook is inherently evil? Of course not – my comment stems from the fact that it consumes a lot of time and that facebook constantly changes their news feed. It’s aggravating.

Yesterday I was in a church meeting covering sharing on social media (and a few other things), and the older generation of members brought up a couple of miguided points. One was that “…people who use the internet and social media are less social…” and the other was that “…text and email don’t let feelings show through.” Both of those are flawed in several respects.

“…people who use the internet and social media are less social…”

This is just a complete myth. All you have to do is jump back in time and insert the words “television” or “radio.” The same thing was said back then.

In the 1980’s TV was accused of destroying childhood as a developmental stage and we were amusing ourselves to death, and radio was accused too:

Wireless [radio] relieves the listener from the necessity of `mental labours.’ Instead of an individual with definite preoccupations who … seeks certain things and rejects others … the wireless listener bobs like a cork on the waves, hears one after the other on endless succession of totally unconnected things, and so entirely without a breathing space that he does not manage subsequently to ponder and consider what he has heard. ” — Rudolph Arnheim 1936

The average user of a social networking site has more close ties and is half as likely to be socially isolated as the average American. — Pew Internet Research

The internet is not about the gadgets or devices. They are just a means to an end – which is the information. That is the point that most people tend to miss. What the internet has done, for both good and bad, is empowerment. It allows us, the common people, to disseminate data in near real-time as events and things happen in the world. The archives of history are at our fingertips.

Correlation does not equal causation in social media – just like the argument that intelligent people are less likely to be religious.

Danah Boyd argues that “…society fails young people when paternalism and protectionism hinder teenagers’ ability to become informed, thoughtful, and engaged citizens through their online interactions.”

I would even extend that argument to the Church. The leaders of Christianity fail young people when protectionism hinders teenagers’ abilities to become informed, thoughtful, and engaged Christians through online interactions. 

This is similar in some respects to the punishment by death by the church for owning a printed copy of the Bible before the printing press. Church leaders should NOT restrict the flow of information simply because they want to control it. That is up to God not man.

One side point is that in my professional experience, generally the people who propagate the social myth are the same people who don’t use the internet and have no basic understanding of it. Just like the FCC Chairman’s “Wasteland Speech” of 1961, there are always the naysayers. While the Chairman had some valid points back then, what people have to understand now is that the internet is a direct reflection of all of us. We control it. It does not control us.

“…text and email don’t let feelings show through.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 10.10.31 AMIt’s funny, but people tend to forget that not long ago society was lamenting the loss of real handwritten letters. While there is an argument to be made for lack of inflection in txt messages, email generally tends to more long form. Many of the prior generations long for the days of good penmanship, but maybe the counter-balance is that digital communications allow far more messages that are prompt and timely. At any rate, the problems with digital communications have been debated for a long time.

Of course, when I write or type I tend to put a lot of thought into things, and I realize that some people do not. However, that same argument can be made for the actual writing of letters with pen and paper. Digital media does not magically strip away one’s ability to write just as a pen and ink does not magically give one that power.

Digital media does not magically strip away one’s ability to write – just as a pen and ink does not magically give one that power. — Rex Moncrief

Since my meeting yesterday was a church meeting, I brought up the fact that in generations past letters were used such as Paul’s letters to the church. While his opening and closing contained references to the Kingdom of God – he wasted no time in getting to the heart of the problems. Had digital communications been around 2 thousand years ago, I’m willing to bet that Paul’s email would have been very much the same as his letters jsut maybe slightly condensed.

In conclusion on both points, everything has an upside and downside. Using digital communications isn’t really changing society as much as transforming it – like the printing press a few centuries ago.