Volume Versus Substance!
By Stephen Doherty
June 26th, 2022
“It is not the quantity but the quality of knowledge that
determines the mind’s dignity.” – William Ellery Channing
We are witnessing an unusual phenomenon in today’s culture. Because of the massive and growing prevalence of social media – society as a whole appears to be locked in a perpetual state of downloading a stream of collective consciousness. And while much of it is little more than incessant “white noise,” there are serious and growing consequences to every ant in the pile owning a megaphone.
Unfolding before us is a disturbing trend towards a level of contrarianism that was unimaginable only a few years ago. Because, unlike a megaphone in the Town Square, today’s social media has an overwhelming global coverage capability. The most noticeable annoyance is that no one, anywhere – can publically express support or admiration for anything – without an immediate and defiant counterattack from God-knows who or where.
If you casually express your love of chocolate ice cream – by the time you get home, picketing protesters will be in your driveaway attacking you on behalf of strawberry and vanilla! The Twitterization of America has transformed the uninteresting and irrelevant into front page news! Andy Warhol would have to revise his “15-minutes of fame” prognostications.
Power corrupts and the desire and ability to communicate with millions of potential like-minded zealots is exclusively a human condition. The power to “champion” a viewpoint or opinion has proven so intoxicating to the infinite array of social media practitioners that public discourse today is little more than a 24/7 showcase of slings and arrows.
It reminds me of that scene in War Games where the computer runs through hundreds of attack scenarios – all starting with a single missile launch and ending with thousands of missiles rained down on the target from a hundred different countries. I think that’s a perfect metaphor for today’s social media. We have incentized – even glamorized, perpetual yammering.
Like any powerful tool, today’s varied means of public communication can be used for good or evil. Virtually every tool known to man has an equal capacity for good and evil. We can only shiver at the thought of a box cutter or screwdriver in the wrong hands yet marvel at the same tools in the possession of an experienced craftsman.
My heart aches for today’s young people unable to escape the taunts and threats of cruel classmates. There was a time when the cruelty ceased at the final school bell – giving victims a respite to gather themselves for the following day. No more. Technology now permeates where once safety and solitude were possible.
I marvel at and revel in the miracles of modern technology. The things we are able to do and the access we have to valuable data and necessary information is staggering. Our lives have been improved immeasurably by the advent of the computer chip – which now drives everything from our cars to our toasters and coffee machines.
But for me, the jury is still out on the value of drinking communications from a fire hose. Despite technology’s breathtaking contributions to our culture and society – I can’t help but feel our lives have been diminished and degraded by much of what we have allowed social media to become.
We are rapidly perfecting the “art” of speaking AT, and not TO, each other. At the end of the day, a society and culture are merely a reflection of its collective discourse. The accelerating corrosiveness of social media on communications does not give me pause for celebration.
“Only through communication can human life hold meaning.” – Paulo Freire