This is great time to mention one of my favorite books on the media and public discourse: Amusing Ourselves to Death - Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, by Neil Postman. In the book, the two infamous dystopian novels of the 20th century (1984 and Brave New World) are compared to determine which one our world most closely resembles.
The two books differ in how they describe the source of the dystopia. It's been a while so please excuse any inaccuracies - in 1984 the world is controlled by authoritarian governments through fear, misinformation, and endless distractions, whereas in Brave New World the world is controlled by an authoritarian government through mind-numbing pleasure and shallow entertainment. The governments in these books both rely on citizens being reduced to their lowest common denominator. I think people during the cold war could most easily imagine, and thus be most afraid of, a world that resembled 1984. The book I mentioned in the beginning of this post argues the view that we should have actually been more worried about a world more closely resembling Brave New World.
Today we are constantly fed a mind-numbing amount (mis)information that we also simultaneously look for because it makes us feel better. Unfortunately, this media barrage also robs us of our attention and ability to critically think about important issues affecting our society. If anyone is interested in reading a book written before the age of social media (published 1985) and exploring these ideas, I highly recommend this one.
Is it not possible we were always this dumb but more that most of us talked less? This isn't beyond the standard "pub talk" but today that "pub" is the online world and published for all to see. Where previously you'd have reporters and sub-editors and editors to publish; today you can just run your mouth off whenever you want and the crowds can all hear.
This sort of thing makes us _look_ dumber compared to the era of print media but maybe together and on average we were always this dumb in the first place but now we just see it better.
As a liberal that subscribe to The NY Times I wonder why they always have to make these issues so politicized, even when they are making a good observation. The problem they describe, violent reaction to opposing views, seem present amongst all sides of the political spectrum and it does not seem limited to extreme opinions.
The article seems in a very indirect way to make argument that violent reaction to and ostracizing of people that hold opposing opinions is ok when you hold the correct opinions and not when you don’t, and I strongly believe all sides should be held to the same standard of discourse.
It shows how far the US has shifted to the right when the NYT would describe Pinker as a liberal. Twenty years ago his views were considered more center-right (in the US at least). But, I am off-topic ...
The biggest problem with social media is that it massively amplifies radical (and, often ignorant or misguided) opinions. This especially disturbs me, because I sort of helped cause it. As a kid, I wanted the more radical, fringe perspectives to have greater influence in the mainstream. But, in an age when content is free (I.e. paid for by ads), the loudest and most extreme make the most money.
Now, I cringe. There’s little discussion, dialogue, or dialectic - less prefrontal cortex and lots more amygdala and limbic. And, if we think of the PFC as what makes us most human, most intelligent - then yes, we dumb.
But, don’t lose hope. There are still plenty of moderate and reasonable people out there. It’s just that they’re not normally the raucous, crass ones. A rule of thumb for me is to shun the loudest most aggressive voices, because they almost always know very little.
This book comes to my mind.
Sommerville argues that news began to make us dumber when we insisted on having it daily.
Now millions of column inches and airtime hours must be filled with information--every day, every hour, every minute. The news, Sommerville says, becomes the driving force for much of our public culture. News schedules turn politics into a perpetual campaign. News packaging influences the timing, content and perception of government initiatives.
News frenzies make a superstition out of scientific and medical research. News polls and statistics create opinion as much as they gauge it. Lost in the tidal wave of information is our ability to discern truly significant news--and our ability to recognize and participate in true community.
I used to consume news daily, obsessively even when I was younger. I was that addict that used to refresh cnn.com compulsively every few minutes at a stretch. Now, I come to HN and a few other niche sites for 'information' or 'news'. But I no longer visit cnn or NYT as much any more.
It's become vogue to talk about social media in this manner but the problem is much more generalized. Sensationalist news from mainstream/traditional media outlets does exactly the same thing. And the sensitivity around issues of race, gender, sexuality, and so on, is destroying our ability to engage in civil discourse with one another - not just on social media, but even in our classrooms.
Here's an example of what I mean. A couple of days ago I was in a waiting room somewhere and as a result ended up watching a few TV news headlines. Some teacher in Wisconsin assigned her fourth-graders some homework that asked them to provide "3 'good' reasons for slavery and 3 bad reasons", which sparked a predictable uproar:
Unsurprisingly, no one was willing to go on the record to try and defend or even explain the assignment. It's toxic. And yet, I don't think it's racist to try and parse the teacher's intention here (or just ask for a comment from them!) The teacher put "good" in quotes, which is a good clue, and I can certainly come up with "good" (in quotes) reasons for slavery (e.g. cotton-picking is highly labour intensive and there was tremendous demand for raw cotton by the rapidly industrializing cotton industry in England).
That's a far cry from an assignment that says, "provide a persuasive moral basis for the goodness of slavery". But apparently we can't have conversations like this in our society any more, because there's no room for nuance.
As a nerd, like many of you, I like having intellectual conversations with plenty of nuance, in which one gives the people around you plenty of leeway and the benefit of the doubt ("hmm, that sounds a bit racist, but I respect this person - let me ask a question to see what they mean"). It seems to me that the places in which we can have those conversations are increasingly limited. It definitely isn't social media. It's not the workplace. Apparently, it might not be academia, either, although I haven't been in school for a long time and can't speak from personal experience (stories like the one I just shared, though, seem to back up this impression).
We're left with smart, intellectual, nuanced people having hushed conversations in coffee shops or pubs where no one can overhear them, because we're all afraid of how our words might be twisted, misinterpreted, and ganged up on. It's a real shame.
The drama of the Internet is that it has promoted the village idiot to the bearer of truth
- Umberto Eco, on Social Media
To trust information given by someone I trust is probably in my hard wiring. I don't feel dumber because I reacted to shared information. However, more than ever, I try to question the validity of the content and won't go beyond a sensational title if the source is questionable. I used to trust content, but now I take deliberate, mindful steps to question it. At the least, social media has become more exhausting because of this.
If I could wave a magic wand, I would introduce friction to sharing media. It is far too easy to share false information. Further, information that bubbles to the top is rife with bias and fortifies a bubble.
Ideas worth experimenting:
1. Make the decision to share more salient. Prompt the sharer with a question that forces a moment of reflection. For instance, "if we replaced the author's name with your own and your reputation were at risk, would you share this?".
2. Replace the crude upvote/downvote mechanism with something more nuanced. Separate upvotes from downvotes. Prompt the voter with a list of reasons why he/she voted accordingly. Make voting history public.
I just did what I wanted to do since a very long time: deleted my Facebook company page and my personal profile and added all the facebook domains to my /etc/hosts sinkhole[¹]
I can finally breathe again.
No, you're already dumb and social media is just bringing it out.
We are getting dumber. Social media is simply a mirror.
I’m pretty sure it’s just revealing the dumb, at scale.
The other day I started reading a book and fell asleep almost instantly because it was so boring.
So instead I started listening to a lecture on YouTube and I fell asleep almost instantly.
So then after that I opened that Instagram explore page and was engaged for hours.
Social media is definitely making us dumber. It's 15-60-second hits of all the good parts of everything and that's it.
No context, no substance, just the good stuff.
I think that using an example of people misinterpreting and then spreading something without having familiarized themselves with the original sources to claim that social media makes us dumber is pretty dumb.
>That’s because the pernicious social dynamics of these online spaces hammer home the idea that anyone who disagrees with you on any controversial subject, even a little bit, is incorrigibly dumb or evil or suspect.
I see some merits in this article and I agree with certain parts up to a certain point, but the portion I quoted above is actually more troubling to me. There are lots of people who refuse to believe basic, empirically-proven concepts about the world and social media is merely revealing the ignorance of those people. Celebrating it or saying that everyone has a valid opinion (despite that opinion being based on something false) is even more harmful than the conflict spurred by disagreement, in my opinion.
So the singularity is approaching even faster!
Why doesn't the opinion piece link to the youtube video it talks about?
Does anyone have a twitter timeline archiving tool? I get some major FoMO when it comes to not checking twitter.
Selection bias? ;-)
surely, "Social Media Are Making Us Dumber"
[tongue firmly in cheek]
NYT requires a digital subscription.
*Media Is Making Us Dumber
Speak for yourself. Seems more likely social media is making it more difficult for stupid people to hide.
It's not actually much about Social Media and the internet in general but the fact that some person/entity dictates the course of discussion, and you obviously can blame the people who follow them but at the end of the day most people like to conform themselves and associate with a group because that's how we evolved, in groups.(or better said tribes)
I surely wasn't around when the TV appeared, but i'm pretty sure it wasn't so much about the technology or the time spent on it, but more about the fact that the number between the people who come up with the content and the topics discussed and the people receiving the information is highly disproportionate.
The fact that you have NYT say, what in essence is alt-media,that is "making people dumber" it's kind of hypocritical.The article it's just a rage about the simple fact that an academic figure is more edgy than the vast majority. I would rather stop decaying the quality in the selection of topics through politics.