I'm so sick of media pundits who summarily dismiss social media as mindless drivel. The latest is Neil Gabler's article in the LATimes, Zuckerberg speeds our decline into narcissism and triviality. In it, he argues that social media in general, and Facebook in particular, is undoing all the progress society made during and after the Gutenberg Revolution.
You see, Gutenberg created the printing press, which is here credited with having created the modern mind:
Print’s uniformity, its immutability, its rigidity, its logic led to a number of social transformations, among which were the rise of rationalism and of the scientific method. In facilitating reason, print also facilitated complex ideas. It was no accident that it coincided with the Renaissance. Print made us think better or, at least, with greater discipline. In effect, the printing press created the modern mind.
Gabler counters that instead of building upon this intellectual progress, social media has just created "new ways of minimizing how we communicate with each other." He writes:
The sites, and the information on them, billboard our personal blathering, the effluvium of our lives, and they wind up not expanding the world but shrinking it to our own dimensions...Gutenberg’s Revolution left us with a world that was intellectually rich. Zuckerberg’s portends one that is all thumbs and no brains.
With all due respect to Marshall McLuhan, I don't think the casual, short-hand nature of social media means that we will become incapable of developing and sharing complex ideas. If these critics spent more time using these channels they would see them for what they reall are: a treasure trove of information including business updates, global news, local events, fundraising efforts, fashion, food, and travel tips. They also serve as a quick connection to friends and family...and what's wrong with wanting to connect? Yes, there's garbage out there. But there's garbage everywhere (have you flipped through your television stations lately?).
I do think that ongoing studies of the impact of new media & technology on our thinking and behavior are fascinating and attention-worthy. I, myself, am trying to multitask less in favor of giving activities my full attention. But that doesn't mean I can't find valuable, entertaining, and inspiring content in the social media realm. I do so nearly every day.
And for the record, I just ate a ham sandwich and it was delicious.