The Social Media Trap
Social media on the web is all the rage. Everywhere you look, people of all ages are glued to their device of choice as if they’re lives depend upon it. I have a running joke that they should just staple that damn thing to their head and get it over with.
Forbes | Roger Kay – Contributor
A lot has been said recently about how social media is eating up our lives, but most of this commentary is pretty snarky, which detracts from the seriousness of the subject.
There are a million and one services that purport to tell anyone who will listen (and pay) how to “optimize” his or her online presence. And everyone is merrily plunging headfirst into this brave new world with nary a thought for its consequences. As I’ve said before, the formation of “information objects” that correspond to every individual represents a one-way street: once they’re made, there’s no unmaking them.
But ranting away about George Orwell doesn’t have much of an effect. I suspect that the mid-20th century writer isn’t on many curricula these days. If it doesn’t bother you that your Tweet stream will become a record of every song you ever listened to, it doesn’t bother me, either.
Let’s turn away, then, from the totalitarian potential in social media and look instead at what they do to our everyday lives. If one thinks about how computers — and human brains — work, they do two main things: process (thinking) and communicate (reading/listening/watching TV/surfing the Web and talking/writing/blogging/posting).
Now, lots of interesting work has been done in artificial intelligence circles on “hive” or “swarm” thinking. You can see it in action in actual beehives and ant colonies. Individuals, not too smart in their own right, can, acting together, produce interesting and sometimes sophisticated results. They can also produce a lot of hooey.
Without the ready means to communicate, people have to sit by themselves and think. Quality of output relates directly to the ratio of thinking to communicating. More thinking, less communicating: better thought, rarely imparted. More communicating, less thinking: dumber thought, frequently imparted. Thus, prisoners sometimes write interesting books. They have lots of time to think and not a whole lot of ways to communicate.
The constant arrival of empty coal hoppers creates a mania to fill them, which is problematic. If someone doesn’t have a lot of heavy thinking to pour into the hopper, he or she just pours in any old thing. Thus, all this communicating has a deleterious effect on actual thinking, and people tend to “share” (that word sets my teeth on edge) whatever they had for breakfast, poorly lit photos of their spouse, and links to other people’s hastily dashed-off barely-thoughts. In such a world, Lev Tolstoy would be a giant. Oh, wait, he is a giant.
Then, we have the other side of the equation, what the social media themselves are doing. The most important result to come out of Facebook’s f8 conference last week is the revelation that Marc Zuckerberg wants to become the gatekeeper for everyone else’s Web services. You may have noticed lately, for example, on Yahoo! or the music service Spotify, how you’re being asked to log into Facebook — repeatedly.
The Zuck has offered his “partners” a Faustian deal: we’ll integrate you into Facebook, but only if you require all your users to log into Facebook first to use your service. Ouch! This lock-in strategy would make former Microsoft chairman Bill Gates proud. You literally won’t be able to use the big Web services unless you have a Facebook account. Think about that for a bit.
Yes, it’s enlightened that Facebook — along with Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Oracle, and others — has adopted HTML5, but this desire to become the doorman with the velvet rope for the entire Web is a little megalomaniacal, don’t you think? Oh, that’s right. You weren’t thinking. You were typing.
Say, whuh? Oh, never mind… •
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