This is really well written and good and I’m going to pull out bits and be nitty about them because they provoked thoughts, but not because they’re intended to be parts of some kind of refutation.
You probably got the link to this article from some form of social media.
One of the biggest hits that social media has done to our world is that it’s made truth become a relative thing instead of an objective thing.
I don’t think the core of this can be blamed on social media. I think you can blame social media for a lot of the very weird instances of relative truth, for many of its most destructive expressions, for an increased rate of degradation even maybe–but it’s not clear to me that truth as “an objective thing” was what society had before social media. There are a lot of trends of increasing institutional distrust that predate, you know, Pokes and Top 8s and … whatever.
It’s also true that – like, for any given country, in what year did all its citizens become equally enfranchised? Are they? In what decade did women start participating equally in public life? Do they now? Without those kinds of preconditions, the systems of truth that exist there are part of a coercive system of power, one formed pretty much by definition only of people who benefit somehow from its dominance. Which isn’t to say that reality doesn’t exist before society starts listening to people who aren’t straight white dudes – but maybe it’s a lot easier to get everyone in any given room to agree on “objective facts” when they have the necessary mutual trust that comes from being People Like Us.
Maybe it would always be harder to get fact consensus in an actually multicultural and fair society. If you actually get a multicultural and fair society out of the deal, that’s not a problem to shy away from.
The age of literacy and print media lasted for at least thousands of years. Social media and the interet has existed for 50 years by the most liberal estimates. Maybe this is one of those cases where large changes in these models cause outright societal chaos because it exposes the biases that we’ve already had for so long. Are things chaotic because of the change or is the change making things chaotic?
This is really, really important and very interesting. I don’t know that I think that we’d really finished adjusting to literacy and print, if I’m being honest.
There is a chunk about the printing press that I’d question the history of–when people talk about religion and the printing press, it’s really Protestantism that they mean spread, not Christianity–but the questions are the right questions.
We could also talk about the negatives of the printing press. I’m gonna toss out there that I’m not a fan of Luther’s On the Jews and Their Lies, don’t really think that was good for society. The point isn’t that Someone Should Time Travel And Destroy Those Presses, it’s that really big things are terrible as well as good, in ways you would never have predicted when they first showed up.
The big thing about the comparison with the printing press that’s interesting to me is that the printing press really obviously didn’t empower individuals but instead the institutions who could afford to run them. Social media as it exists today, does not empower individuals either, but people think it does. You’re not “posting up” something on Twitter any more than you’re “publishing” something when you send in a Confession to Seventeen magazine and they take something like it and sell ads next to it. But with the Internet, it’s close enough that people get the illusion that’s what they’re doing.
To me, that’s maybe the scary difference right now about the Internet and the printing press. Everyone knew how the printing press worked, you know? Not enough to run it themselves, maybe, but all of the interactions and relationships were clear.
What does it mean that the Internet has such a huge place in people’s lives and such a vanishingly small fraction of people could even explain to you how a page shows up in the browser? How does it impact our ability to adjust to it as a civilization?