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I’ll quite happily admit it: I’m a bit of a Luddite. I don’t use Facebook, Twitter, smart-phones and their attendant apps, and whatever else is au courant on the interwebs these days. The closest thing I have to a tablet is a chunk of clay on which I practice Old Persian. Just not my thing. I can’t, however, avoid their continuing impact on society and the ways people interact (or pretend to) around me. There is no point in railing against them per se. As Marshall McLuhan very persuasively put it roughly a half century ago, all technological change is both an effective change in society and is irreversable. Once out of the box, the cat will roam. Apparently in the form of endless streams of kitten pictures with bad grammar…

Nevertheless, one can point out some of the changes in communication and society which are effected and to comment on their more absurd aspects. While the overall change is inevitable, surely some of the sillier aspects can at least be mitigated.
The so-called Social Media make sense as substitutes for personal communication: for staying in contact with friends and colleagues in other countries and continents, it is cheaper and faster than the post or the phone. They even make sense for those who care about popular opinion and want to keep up with it, for whatever reasons. What makes absolutely no sense is their rather widespread use in contexts in which they are superfluous. The most obvious (and commonly noted even among technophiles) is the phenomenon where groups of friends on a train spend the entire trip glued to their i-gadget rather than in conversation with their physically present peers. Apparently, the inanities of someone far-distant are preferable to the reality of one present. Or, indeed, that same person’s “tweet” is more interesting than that person’s oral ejaculations. I don’t think I am alone in seeing this as a degredation of community and social interaction. People are more important and interesting than just what they can pump out electronically (and yes, I note the irony).

As valuable and important as distance-ranging networks are, surely nothing is the same as personal, oral, and physically present communication. It is, after all, the primal human form of society (cf. Walter Ong). Social media can be great if it is used to increase and support the gathering of communities. It is detrimental if it ends up functioning as a replacement for it. Not only does that increase the isolation of all using it as such, it will exclude those not connected in that manner.

How can we do that? I don’t know. I suppose there are more twitter-refusniks out there like me. But I think even those who are not can see that society needs to keep these new forms of communication within their proper and useful spheres, and not let them increase meaningful fragmentation while they appear to increase superficial interconnectedness.

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