Antisocial media

So today I’ve been reading a bit more about:

How social media is destroying our brains!

One of my favourite comics noted a particular divide in society long ago (back in ‘97!); people who love technology and people who… don’t.


Highlighted in the Guardian and the Telegraph this week, this is a story that comes up quite a lot lately.

Turkle’s thesis is simple: technology is threatening to dominate our lives and make us less human

Oh, see how teh technomologies are ruining us as a species!! (They write on their laptops, seeing through their glasses, whilst recovering from operations last week or popping an aspirin for that headache).

Give us a break.

The different kinds of communication that people are using have become something that scares people

What, it scares some people, therefore it’s evil? What is this, the dark ages? It’s a shame we’ve not come far enough to realise that fear generally just leads to prejudice and is not a sensible reason to shun technology.

It’s no new phenomenon, of course. The population has always suffered from technofear and not always from the least informed members of society. For example, even a fictional* Socrates got his toga in a twist over the arrival of books if we’re to trust his student, Plato (from Dialogues of Plato, Phaedrus, p. 275):

this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories…

Yet, amazingly, even with the ubiquitous written word, we still manage to retain a fair bit of info in our minds. Indeed, people learn tremendous amounts from articles in their many forms. It may not be everyone’s favourite medium – audiobooks, TV, seminars and so on are going strong because not everyone learns/enjoys things in the same ways. But we’d all agree books aren’t evil, I think (I guess it depends on the content!).

they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

Yeah, I know a lot of people like that too, Socrates. Funnily enough, they tend to read less.

*This looks like an interesting book; here, on the myth that led to Socrates’ character as depicted by Plato in Phaedrus – a king who refuses the gift of writing from the god Thoth, for fear of causing forgetfulness, and the origins of the ‘mnemonic’!

On the subject of interesting books, Martin has just linked me to this post by Jonah Lehrer – a review of a book called The Shallows that came out last year, exploring how the internet might be affecting our brains. Lehrer also cites Phaedrus as an early ‘technological scare’ and muses on man’s relationship with technology – in reality and fiction – the nature of multitasking and impact of video games. A highly recommended post.

Virtual Reality

The main argument seems to be that by talking to each other through the internet, people are departing from reality and suffering as a result.

it is actually isolating us from real human interactions in a cyber-reality that is a poor imitation of the real world

I’m not sure what kind of world some of these people think they live in. Do they strike up a conversation with every stranger that walks past? Have they ever travelled the London Underground? Not talking to people you don’t know isn’t considered odd. So why is talking to people you do know, who don’t happen to be in your physical vicinity, so very upsetting?

Enter examples of sitting at the dinner table, at funerals, in restaurants whilst texting. Sorry, but if someone lacks manners, that’s probably one of many manifestations and it would be easy to shake a finger at some parents…

If you didn’t turn off the TV at dinner time or explain why answering your phone in the middle of a conversation isn’t acceptable; if you didn’t catch that rudeness early, then don’t be surprised if it continues and gets worse.

But it’s not exclusively young people – far from it! I’d say 95% of the phones going off in lectures/talks belong to the more senior members of the audience, for example. Perhaps another case of lack of understanding/acceptance of technology causing more of the problems than the technology itself.

I hate these things, I keep forgetting I even have it! I don’t know it’s mine that’s ringing most of the time – we’ve all heard that one!

Yes, most of us have had a collision with someone staring at their phone. But is it any better if they’re staring at a newspaper or a book? No. Especially if you’re in the middle of the road at the time (yes, man on Clerkenwell road reading the Metro, I’m thinking of you!!). These things have always happened, they always will; it’s people, not the technology. We can moan and then laugh about it but don’t blame the gadgets, it’s pointless!

Twitter and FB don’t connect people, they isolate them from reality, say a rising number of academics – define reality
Thanks to @ for returning me to the original point of this section.


One of the things that irks me most about these objectors is that they so rarely seem to consider people who are incapable of that peculiar idea of  real social interaction, or at least find it difficult – due to living with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), for example.

I have many friends with varying degrees of Asperger’s or simply find it difficult/unpleasant to interact with people directly – that doesn’t mean they don’t like people at all or despise all forms of human contact, though.

I’ve said before that I used to prefer to be on my own, didn’t have many friends – but a busy chat room provided a comfortable environment to talk to people of a range of ages, living in different countries. Talking to people online completely rekindled my interest in humanity and social interaction as a whole.

Of course that will not be the case for everyone. But I begrudge attacks on all social media on the premise that it prevents socialising (clue’s in the name?!) and the cultivation of interpersonal skills.

I suppose the problem is getting the people who do benefit from social media in touch with those who shun it; when one group finds it hard to talk directly to people and the other will only ever do that, that’s quite a barrier.

It’s not just a benefit to autistic people, though. It’s still not a well-understood condition and, like technology itself, often feared by the ignorant. By providing such individuals with the means to talk to others and, for example, explain their reactions and feelings, other people can better understand them and learn how best to approach them as friends, which is mutually beneficial.

It can be daunting to try to talk to someone whose ideas of acceptable social actions differ from yours quite drastically – that works both ways. I know people online who are great fun to talk to because of their sense of humour and intellectual brilliance. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to get to know them because I sometimes do find it much harder to talk to them ‘in real life’.

Sadly, critics of social media don’t seem to grasp this and the many other benefits of platforms like Twitter and Facebook, which I have sung the praises of before and will continue to do so.

Times, they are a-changing; move with them or be left behind!



The different kinds of communication that people are using have become something that scares people

7 thoughts on “Antisocial media

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Antisocial media « Purely a figment of your imagination --

  2. Very interesting post, as always. My issues in this area are not the concerns about this kind of socialising being undesirable because it removes people from reality, my problem with it is aimed at how genuine people are online.

    I find sometimes that no matter how friendly you can be to some people online, when they don’t acknowledge you or share conversations (for whatever reason e.g. you’re not “cool” enough, they’re too busy or you’re just not that interesting) this can have as much an impact, if not stronger (when you await a response) than completely blanking you face to face. On the same grounds that such networks can build confidence, they can also strip you of it too.

    The number of followers are a major thing on twitter particularly if you blog because it’s encouraging and amazing to have your work read, commented on and retweeted. It also creates a status though, that people can judge you on (whether openly admitted or not) and that itself can also knock the confidence of people to engage with others on there.

    Judging and criticism is a good learning curve and can make you more determined next time around so I’m not saying at all that it shouldn’t happen, it’s just the opposing view on the confidence issue.

    When you think about it, all these points really aren’t that dissimilar from “real-life”; some people get on, some people judge, some people dislike, some people like, some people just spectate and others bumble along happily unaware. Such is life, on- or off-line.

    1. Indeed, which is why I don’t think it is unreal and the argument is BS (basically) – the internet is just another medium through which we live and communicate.

      These criticisms most often come from people who barely use or attempt to understand it, as usual. Again, it’s the fear problem.

      Whether it’s at a party, on the phone, in the street or on a message board – you get rude, offensive people, considerate likeable people, quiet wallflowers and annoying loudmouths.

      Personality is what distinguishes us; I see no reason why we should be so afraid of other ways of expressing it. Nothing will ever please everyone or be without its drawbacks.

      Not that that’s to say we should acknowledge problems and try to improve them – of course the internet has its fair share!! But let’s try keep the criticisms valid, at least.

  3. Interesting topic. Especially because socialising (in the putative sense of the term) is perhaps the most obvious way to think about SOCIAL media. My first thought goes to how it may affect agents on more cognitive grounds, pace Plato.

    Like all new things, it takes time to really understand the implications of so-called social media (the term itself seems so new I cringe at uttering it). As always, Plato (i.e. ‘Socrates) does raise interesting critiques, my teachers were forced to learn poetry line by line to memorise and know how to do arithmetic. noting generational differences, I was educated in a system where we learn different skills like how to critique a poem or text and how to do more fancy mathematics than simply thinking about integers (think about sets, logical propositions, or models, for instance).

    I think there is a good case for there to be a change of how people who will eventually grow up and take social media for granted to cognise reality and how they are taught to take certain reasoning patterns for granted. But different doesn’t necessarily mean better, nor does it mean worse. I think that’s something for the empirical studies to judge.

    I suppose something could be said of how Baudrillard’s ‘Hyper-real’ is finally being realised, but that’s not my remit of expertise!

    With Regards,

  4. Pingback: On being a “digital academic” | Purely a figment of your imagination

  5. Pingback: Guest post: Dr Marianne Baker's summary of "How to be a successful digital academic", an online event | Piirus Blog

  6. Pingback: Guest post: Dr Marianne Baker’s summary of “How to be a successful digital academic”, an online event

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