At our recent Easter family reunion, a family member known for being opinionated asked me, “Are you on Twitter?”
Hearing my “no”, he redirected the question to my son, then launched into an in-depth analysis of Elon Musk’s efforts to buy the social media platform. Whether he thought Twitter’s “poison pill” action was good or bad, I can’t tell, because I immediately stopped paying attention.
The topic couldn’t interest me less – and was just the latest example of why I’m thankful I’m not on social media. It’s gratitude that I feel quite often.
Whenever social media fuels a demagogue’s unfounded speculation, treats a vapid topic as the biggest controversy of the year, or spreads potentially self-destructive behavior as a contagion, I’m grateful.
That doesn’t mean I’m not interested in today’s topics. But mainstream media and self-guided internet research satisfy my need to know, largely free of algorithms that feed others.
Frankly, I have never been comfortable with social networks, because it is almost impossible to know with whom we communicate. “Know your audience” is a guiding principle in the traditional media where I have spent my career.
Most people get around this by posting the mundane (pictures of kids and dinner entrees), which gets little attention. Too many others however, wanting as many answers as possible, publish the controversy.
There’s an old saying that opinions are like anuses – everyone has one. There are too many on social media.
The result is a world made darker by focused negativity; increasingly polarized by disinformation and algorithms; and emotionally more damaging by artificial constructs nurturing unrealistic expectations. People are separated by an increasing number of divisions and become increasingly isolated by the time and attention devoted to social media.
Are there positives on social media? Yes of course. It can be an effective way to share information, promote worthwhile events and causes. Families and friends can find ways to share meaningfully remotely.
Weighed on a scale, however, the scales tip towards an antisocial medium that causes more harm than good. Do you want proof ? Go to your favorite grocery store, observe and compare.
Grocery stores are the village squares of our society. Because everyone needs food, this is where all types and ages of people mingle and interact for at least a few minutes.
Almost without fail, you will find nice and polite, often friendly people. Even if they are preoccupied or in a hurry, they will always try hard to avoid your way and display common consideration.
People live their lives, treat others as they would like to be treated, and keep their opinions to themselves. For me, grocery stores represent a real “social” medium, a place where people physically interact with each other.
Egos are muted. The rudeness is unusual. Bad behavior is rare. Can the same be said of social networks?
These observations are generalizations. Some users post or share beautiful, uplifting and encouraging content on social media. And we’ve all had experiences with rude people in stores.
But is there any question that in an era where social media platforms proliferate, people are becoming increasingly fragmented, depressed, negative, opinionated, polarized, isolated, even dangerous?
Increasingly, virtual mobs rule, shouting against dissenting voices, delaying freethinking, and sowing civil discord without physically gathering; participants never leave their computers or look up from their smartphones. Impressionable young people make profound decisions, affecting – even losing – their lives, due to the influence of other people who don’t even know them.
Stay on social media if you want, but I’m doing just fine. For my social solutions, I’ll go to the grocery store, downtown, to a park, to a concert – or to a vacation gathering where I can have a good chat with an opinionated family member – after leaving the Twitter topic.
To respond to this column – or read other columns by Dave Hurst – visit www.hurstmediaworks.com.