As my last post documented there is a plague on the internet that is having a negative affect on civilization as a whole. Facebook is the leading cause of this plague, and despite many opportunities, has completely failed to do anything about it. Pretty much every open group has been taken over by trolls and spam and it is impossible to have any intellectual discussion.
Social Media is the New Television
Fahrenheit 451 is a book by Ray Bradbury which is often mistaken as a tale of censorship. In fact it is a tale about how television has destroyed intellectual discourse. I thought about this recently upon reading a couple of different articles.
First is an article “Social Media Is Killing Discourse Because It’s Too Much Like TV” which correctly identifies social media as an entertainment platform rather than an actual discussion platform. It is this decades new TV:
The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining.” (Emphasis added.) And, Postman argued, when news is constructed as a form of entertainment, it inevitably loses its function for a healthy democracy. “I am saying something far more serious than that we are being deprived of authentic information. I am saying we are losing our sense of what it means to be well informed. Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge?”
Social media not only does this, it makes it worse.
Social media, in contrast, uses algorithms to encourage comfort and complaisance, since its entire business model is built upon maximizing the time users spend inside of it. Who would like to hang around in a place where everyone seems to be negative, mean, and disapproving? The outcome is a proliferation of emotions, a radicalization of those emotions, and a fragmented society. This is way more dangerous for the idea of democracy founded on the notion of informed participation.
I attempted to join a Facebook group that would challenge me intellectually, it didn’t work. In fact it will never work on Facebook. The problem is that there is no mechanism for moderation on Facebook, because it would go against its business model.
Our Changing “Internet” Minds
Second is an article “Are humans evolving beyond the need to tell stories?” which starts with the observation that “novels” are a dying art form, replaced by visual storytelling that is less satisfying to our mental development.
My view is that we’re deluded if we think new technologies come into existence because of clearly defined human objectives – let alone benevolent ones – and it’s this that should shape our response to them. No, the history of the 20th century – and now the 21st – is replete with examples of technologies that were developed purely in order to facilitate the killing of people at a distance, of which the internet is only the most egregious example. Our era is also replete with the mental illnesses occasioned by such technologies – sometimes I think our obsession with viewing violent and horrific imagery is some sort of collective post-traumatic stress disorder.
The article is more broadly directed at tech and internet culture as a whole, and I am not convinced of the thesis, but as I have documented time and time again, the internet does change us and our ability to think rationally.
So stop reading blogs and pick up a book.
TV News is something you don’t need
Facebook is not the source of “fake news” and misinformation, it is the conduit for its dissemination.
TV news should take a lot of the blame for what is going on in society. We watch it because it is the quickest way to become “informed”, but it is not really informing us. Many people have decided that in the age of Trump, TV news is no longer worth watching.
The news isn’t interested in creating an accurate sample. They select for what’s 1) unusual, 2) awful, and 3) probably going to be popular. So the idea that you can get a meaningful sense of the “state of the world” by watching the news is absurd.
Their selections exploit our negativity bias. We’ve evolved to pay more attention to what’s scary and infuriating, but that doesn’t mean every instance of fear or anger is useful. Once you’ve quit watching, it becomes obvious that it is a primary aim of news reports—not an incidental side-effect—to agitate and dismay the viewer.
What appears on the news is not “The conscientious person’s portfolio of concerns”. What appears is whatever sells, and what sells is fear, and contempt for other groups of people.
As I stated in my last post, I blame the media for creating and promoting Trump. I see the exact pattern happening with “Brexit” in Britain, and the rise of the radical right all over Europe. The fear-mongering of the media is creating false fear in the general population.
If you really want to be informed, dig deeper. There are sources out there, find them.
The Need For a Course Correction
I have decided I need a change from this culture of meme and misinformation and troll trash.
For now, I have found it in Reddit, where the upvote/downvote tends to self moderate. There are still problems, especially since a lot of people like a lot of stupid crap, but I have found it to be quite a few IQ points above facebook.
The internet is a big place, and for every problem there are solutions. Reddit is not the perfect solution, but it is a start.