I wrote a post last week suggesting that, in its quest to capture our attention, it’s almost as if Facebook wants our worship. I meant the post to be provocative, and at least for me, it was: the post has provoked some further thoughts, which I share below.
My Name is Andrew and I’m a User
I have a Facebook account and a Twitter account, I use YouTube, and I carry around an iPhone that enables me to be connected whenever I want. It’s precisely because I’m a user that I’m concerned about what Cal Newport calls “Internet tools” (search engines, social media sites, online encyclopedias, etc.): I see their effects on my own life. It is because I’ve seen what these tools are doing to me that I’m calling into question our naive and uncritical adoption of Internet tools.
Facebook Is Shorthand
For me, Facebook functions as shorthand for all the other Internet tools. I don’t have anything against Facebook per se.
Social Media Is Different Than Television
One commenter wondered if I should have included television in my critique. I don’t think television and Facebook are apples to apples, for several reasons:
- Television goes in one direction only: I receive it. Facebook, on the other hand, allows me to transmit messages to the world, and the very act of transmitting those messages in that medium promotes narcissism: it’s all about me.
- Television isn’t one thing, but a grouping of many things: networks, advertisements, writers, actors, etc. Facebook is a for-profit monolith. It’s ubiquity and power make it more dangerous than old media.
Social Media Promotes Narcissism
The very nature of the social media promotes narcissism, because they encourage me to make everything about me: my updates, my likes, my reactions.
Social Media Isolates
For all the talk about connectivity, I find that social media and the other Internet tools are more likely to isolate than connect us together. The more time we spend looking down at our blinking smart phones, the less able we are to cultivate presence and mindfulness.
Social Media is the Enemy of Patience
Everything about Internet tools is about immediacy: immediate reactions, thoughts, and gratification of desires. If I want something, I buy it on Amazon; if I have an opinion about a current event, I share it to the world. This immediacy keeps us from developing the virtue of patience, and patience matters because the important things in life require that we wait.
Social Media Trains Me to Need Constant Stimulation
It is shameful how often I find myself in a line somewhere, only to pull out my iPhone. The way Internet tools have trained us to need constant stimulation is what scares me the most about these tools.
Social Media is the Message
If the medium is the message, then it’s not the content of the various social media platforms that ought to worry us, but the very nature of these platforms themselves. In other others, it could be the case that even if we eschew all the destructive and evil things on the Internet (pornography, terrorist death videos, etc.), these tools might still warp our minds and twist our wills.
At least, that’s what I’ve started to worry about.
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