Well… some of the world’s brightest minds who were instrumental in its invention and propagation say the answer is, increasingly… “very dangerous”.
It is no secret for example that industry overlords such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs placed strict restrictions on their own children’s access to the technologies they helped create.
Justin Rosenstein recently admitted having blocked himself from several major social platforms and described Facebook’s “like” button as providing “bright dings of pseudo-pleasure”. Of course, every crackpot gets to have their say in today’s online reality… even Justin Rosenstein, who invented the “like” button.
Other issues including privacy protection, cyber-bullying, targeted advertising, ownership of intellectual copyright, personal detachment, professional (non)-productivity, sleep deprivation, depression, proliferation of “fake news”… all are conundrums of increasing importance as we step deeper into the new millennium, and discussed when the wifi goes down.
One aspect of the new world which I find equally interesting and scary, is the algorithms which daily become more refined at showing us what we want to see. “Likes” and self-affirmation is all very nice and pleasant and self-affirming, but… very fucking frightening.
Recently I encountered an example of this; our world brought closer than at any time in history, and divided in previously unimaginable ways.
For context, this was barely two weeks after a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 more young Americans lost their lives.
What stopped my habitual scrolling in its tracks was this photo, depicting senior members of a Pennsylvania church during a “blessing ceremony” while brandishing high-powered weapons. Unsurprisingly to me, photos of this event went viral, fast. The images flooded my news feed, posted by friends in America, Asia, Australia and the middle east.
This particular image stopped me completely.
One of the men in this photo is a personal friend of mine.
I’ve known him for years. My wife and I, when we lived in Korea, regularly joined him and his wife for an afternoon beer at our local pub. We joined them for dinner, in our home and theirs. They were educated and wealthy, and seemed, just… nice.
They had an interesting back story. They made no secret of their long-term affiliation with the Unification Church, and invited us to attend a service as their guests. Likewise, I made no secret of my personal disinclination toward theirs, or any organised religion and politely declined. We had some good conversations and there was a maintained semblance of mutual respect.
It had been a few years, but after seeing this photo I contacted my old friend on Facebook, mentioning his newfound virality. He got back to me, enquiring about my family and so forth. He said the church ceremony in question had been a nice, quiet affair and expressed mild surprise (whether genuine or feigned) at the media attention. After all, as Reuters photographers were there to document the occasion, I wondered how he could possibly have thought such an event might go unnoticed. I didn’t question him though.
I had a look at his Facebook page… and here’s the thing.
His Facebook page was, and is, more or less diametrically opposed to mine. It is filled with posts about “good guys with guns” being the only solution to American gun violence, and all manner of American Alt-right ideological memes. There were messages and posts from like-minded friends and fellow congregation members, praising Jesus, brandishing guns, demonising the libtards…
Just as my Facebook feed, and the Internet in general, reminds me each day that my thoughts and values are absolutely correct and (almost) universally agreed upon, by all who matter at least… so does his.
That, taken to a theoretically logical end point, will almost certainly not end well.
I’ve spent a lot of time pondering these questions. I have friends in the USA, lovely people, who share similar views. Their posts also reflect this regularly. But I find myself wondering, what will my other friends think of my views if they see this on my wall? Will they think I share the same views (which I don’t) & delete or hide me? Will I then slowly becone increasingly anxious as my own psts become increasingly less noticed??? It’s certainly a love hate relationship many of us have developed with social media over the past few years.
Thanks for this. I reckon you’ve nailed the problem, succinctly and better than I could. For what it’s worth, I think that if you be yourself you will always gain more respect than you lose from those with closed minds. Don’t hold me to that. I’m just a blogger.
Nowadays social media has a great influence young and old alike. It is our judgement if we believe everything we watched or read,, just don’t be fooled. What’s scary are the things our kids can access when we are not there to watch.
Yeah, very true…
Great article! That’s the scary thing about social media — it allows us all to live in a very selective bubble. Even if we don’t block opposing posts ourselves, sites like Facebook make sure to filter what we see, so that we only see like-minded posts and things similar to those we have ‘liked’ before. Despite the internet supposedly making us all closer, it seems to be doing more to isolate us into specific ideologically-aligned groups and fewer people have the patience for open discourse on opposing views. It is just easier (and perhaps more satisfying) to hit someone with a label and block them from disrupting our own personal bubble. “I disagree — so you no longer exist.” And with the click of a mouse, we can banish them and their unsettling ideas to the cyber-cornfield.