Writer and retired professor Elizabeth Cook-Lynn swears off and swears at social media:
This invention was not the Utopian Dream whose purpose, some suggest, get’s rid of the gatekeepers of the publishing world and somehow results in liberation. It will not improve our depth of understanding of a multi-cultural world, but will instead bring about low-quality results in any narrative. What this moment of juvenile hubris has done is it has enabled young, high-minded university graduates to gather at Silicon Valley, make millions, publish me-me-me works that they believe are worth something and reward extremes. In the process, it has changed how society works and shows us the darker side of human nature.
Wasn’t it Michaelangelo who drew plans for a submarine, but decided not to publish them because his theory about the failure of human nature told him humans would use the invention as a tool for terrible war? Whoever it was in that by-gone century, he was a man who understood human nature in a way that the Silicon Valley [genius] has not.
Americans, who are the most capable of the “Hot or Not” ideas people of the modern world should heed my mother’s advice: “Just because you can does not mean you should.” Is there anything that will stop us? [Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, “Social Media: It’s Even Worse Than I Thought,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2017.06.16]
We could take the same view of the Electoral College and democracy: they put Trump in the White House, so let’s eliminate them.
As you can imagine, I respond somewhat negatively to Cook-Lynn’s dismissal of social media as evil. For more than a decade, I’ve provided my most useful public service (after teaching) through social media, publishing entertaining and instructive blog posts and podcasts, producing investigative journalism, sharing my articles and others’ via Facebook and Twitter, promoting causes and events, and helping other people connect for conversation and political organizing.
That’s not to say that Cook-Lynn is all wrong about social media. I’m keenly aware of the vitriolic abuse and constant character assassination facilitated and amplified by our omnipresent networked gizmos. Social media makes more public and persistent “the darker side of human nature.” And I fully support Cook-Lynn’s personal solution to the problem, her refusal to connect to Facebook. There is no moral obligation to read Facebook, to Tweet or Instagram, or even to carry a phone in one’s pocket, never mind have it set to wail or wiggle every time a text or tweet comes in. (For the record, the only alert I let my phone emit is for good old-fashioned phone calls… and even there, I frequently silence that ringer.)
I’m fine with creating Facebook- and phone-free zones—dinner table, classroom, driver’s seat, theater, date—but I can’t go as far as Cook-Lynn and wish for a Facebook-/phonefree alternative timeline where Mark Zuckerberg dropped programming and got his degree in psychology, where DARPA had a premonition of the Cylons and didn’t invent the Internet, or where we all play da Vinci and refuse to invent submarines.
Hitler used a portable Remington typewriter. Identity Evropa uses a laser printer. Donald Trump uses Twitter. Erase those technologies from history, and Hitler, Identity Evropa, and Trump would still be jerks, finding other ways to promote themselves and degrade and exploit others. Citizens who don’t want to be exposed to the darker, Trumpian side of human nature can stay off social media… but we can also use that social media to lay bare and combat that Trumpy darkness. We can use our phones to organize marches and voters.
If we are not capable of governing ourselves, of standing for truth and decency, no amount of Web-Luddism will save us. I’ll keep blogging and tweeting and encouraging others to use the technology responsibly.