When everything falls away, there will be little left but the memory of who we were, and the good and the bad we left behind. It will not be the number of followers we had on Facebook or the cool picture we posted on Twitter or Snapchat. It will not be our social media profile that our family and friends spend time discussing, or will it?
Social media has soared because of the ease to throw anything out there compared to the time it takes to speak with a purposeful thought. Social media has also allowed the kooks of society to find each other and made it significantly easier to spread false and purposely misleading information to malleable minds.
I recall what life was like pre-social media, for we were the last reality generation and the last generation to spend more time outdoors than in. Social media was with a finger not thumbs and we used it to turn a dial seven times to get one voice. If we wanted more voices, we made more calls, usually after parental permission. Instagram is now parenting our kids.
I am a big user of social media, but I believe soon Facebook and other large companies will encounter some significant regulation. One, because we have given up our time and focus too cheaply. Second, because Facebook and other platforms have made a fortune off our information while allowing the spread of false information with minimal fact-checking.
Students are getting a lot of their education via social media, not through research to discern and create a unique, factual answer, and I predict that more schools will recognize the distraction that smartphones are in the educational setting and ban them.
Social media is now the size that private decisions can monopolize and persuade large portions of the population. Some will suggest the choice is to turn off social media, but can we?
Social media is here to stay, just like the need for electricity or any other widespread uses in society, but it can be regulated. Television is ubiquitous now and in the beginning, its inventor saw it as an educational tool. Once money interests realized we would rather be entertained than educated, regulation followed to ensure real news was reported, advertisement of certain products was prohibited, and the monopoly of providers was discouraged.
There was a reason for all these things: to protect the common good. Common goodness has been in our cultural DNA since the American revolution. Sometimes it goes astray, such as the inability to strike down slavery early or prohibition of the 1920s. But most of the time, protecting the common good works, whether through consumer safety measures, preserving equal access through net neutrality, or laws against pollution. There is always some excess to be capped.
I was reminded of these things in a recent discussion with a colleague at work. It was obvious that both of us had sampled our respective sources of information and arrived at our own conclusions, yet the conversation was a good one.
Nothing can replace the face-to-face dialogue with a sincere effort to reach common ground and take stock of the biases and inaccuracies in some of our sources. If social media works to destroy community, it should be regulated like a drug. In the meantime make sure your eyes are looking ahead, use public spaces, and read good books. Your time alive is more valuable than as a Zuckerberg algorithm.
Daniel Parker is an author, educator, and public servant. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He will be at My Favorite Books on Saturday, Feb 9th 11 am -1 pm with some of his books for sale.