Is Social Media Anti-Social?

That’s what Ian Bogost writes about in the current issue of The Atlantic. He notes that “social networking” morphed into “social media” sometime around 2009, thanks to the debut of smartphones and Instagram. The difference is simple but profound.

Social networking promotes ties between people who actually know each other and communicate intentionally. Social media, on the other hand, radically expand an author’s audience to hordes of people that are unknown and anonymous.

While this transition has proved quite popular, it has also proved to be highly anti-social, per Bogost. That’s because the social media platform owners quickly discovered that emotionally charged content (and all its ill effects) drew the most eyeballs and this created enormous profit-making potential, thanks to marketers who wished to disseminate commercial messages to as many people as possible. Platform algorithms are designed to broadcast the most emotionally charged posts. Social media posters, meanwhile, revel in their seeming popularity, thriving on likes, shares, retweets, and the like.

Bogost says, “…social media produced a positively unhinged, sociopathic rendition of human sociality…” that has been actively fostered by Big Tech firms “…where sociopathy is a design philosophy.”

Bogost’s condemnation is unrelenting and unforgiving. His conclusion is: “We cannot make social media good, because it is fundamentally bad, deep in its very structure. All we can do is hope that it withers away, and play our small part in helping abandon it.”

Nonetheless, I for one think that Bogost wants to throw out the baby with the bathwater. This very post by me on this blog is itself a social media transmission. I use Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to make as many people as possible aware of my blog posts. Ironically, this post serves to make Bogost more widely read to an audience that doesn’t read The Atlantic.

I don’t dispute what Bogost says about the various platforms’ business models and their toxic effects. But I hold the view that tools are tools, and they can be used for good or ill.

It seems to me that the likelihood of social media’s demise is nil. People are people, human nature is human nature. It may well be that growth is slowing and perhaps may stagnate. Will it actually start to shrink? Only when the world’s population starts to decline. There may be consolidations and mergers as the various platforms lose their distinctive attributes as they all copy each other voraciously. They all seem to want to be all things to all users. But social media are like hammers. And they will be around for millennia to come.

Here’s the link to Bogost’s article:


One School’s Cell Phone Ban Experiment

Most of what I have read about schools trying to regulate or even ban cell phones during class says it’s pretty much a hopeless task. Students are going to check their phones on the sly and the dominant suggestion has been that, instead of banning or regulating them, one should instead modify one’s pedagogy to include them in the classroom routine.

Much of this discussion has included the trend to move away from the “sage on the stage” model of teaching, which relies on professorial lectures, and turn to the “guide on the side” model, which emphasizes in-class small group discussions on topics that students are presumed to have studied prior to showing up in class, with the professor making occasional short commentaries and circulating among the groups to elicit their discussion points. Cell phones in the latter context are used as research tools by the students, a laudatory practice, although the students are no doubt checking emails and social media sites at the same time.

One small, private boarding school in Massachusetts has taken the road less traveled by instituting a total ban on phones in class for both students and professors. The school felt that cell phone use in class was “splintering” the school’s otherwise close-knit sense of community. Despite some initial negative reactions, the school stuck to its guns and at the end of the term, it seems that the students had come around to accepting the policy and even finding positive things to say about it.

During the Covid pandemic, electronic media replaced person-to-person contact and so using smartphones became widespread. Once in-person classes resumed, however, it seemed that cell phone usage had become entrenched.

The article relates how a top school administrator reacted: “Mr. Kalapos realized something needed to be done late last year after a student live-streamed a physical altercation. Watched on social media by many students, the fight became the talk of the school. He and other administrators began discussing a ban. Many students thought that the school wouldn’t actually do it—and that stripping phones from teens was unrealistic.”

I think this article has much to say about this alternative approach. See what you think.

Here’s the link to the story from the Wall Street Journal.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/this-school-took-away-smartphones-the-kids-dont-mind-11667614444


Media that Stir One’s Emotions

Nature.org has just released the winning and honorable mentions for its photography competition and the images are truly images that need to be seen. The photographers have all demonstrated both superb technical skills as well as the ability to exercise levels of creativity that must truly be seen to be properly appreciated. Here is the link to the site. I suggest that you go “full screen” when you view these remarkable images.


Gaming and Gen Z Teens

A recent report from Deloitte as reported on in the Wall Street Journal reports how Gen Z teens differ from other generations in their attitudes toward and uses of online games. The graph below sums it all up nicely.

To view the entire WSJ article, click on the free link below, which will allow you to read the article without needing to have a subscription. It’s interesting reading and something to keep in mind, no matter if you’re in marketing or parenting, education or entertainment. There are significant differences between male and female teens.

Enjoy!

https://deloitte.wsj.com/articles/for-teens-gaming-is-more-than-just-fun-01663870544/?mod=djemCMOToday#


Media Confidence at an All-time Low

The Gallup organization has just published its latest findings on Americans’ confidence in newspapers and TV news. As Gallup author Megan Brenan notes, “Just 16% of U.S. adults now say they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers and 11% in television news. Both readings are down five percentage points since last year.”

The article goes on to break down confidence ratings for Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Brenan goes on to say that the only institution ranked lower than TV and newspapers is the U.S. Congress.

Taking a look at the breakout by political identification, “Republicans’ (5%) and independents’ (12%) confidence in newspapers is the lowest on record for these party groups, while Democrats’ (35%) has been lower in the past. Democrats’ confidence in newspapers rose to the 42% to 46% range during the Donald Trump administration but fell when President Joe Biden took office.”

When one stops to consider that the owners and staff of “mainstream” media are clearly left of center, the ratings’ differences make sense.

The article is well worth reading. Access it here:

https://news.gallup.com/poll/394817/media-confidence-ratings-record-lows.aspx


My Latest Movie Review

A while back, I wrote a review of Peter Jackson’s “Get Back,” his almost eight-hour-long paean to the Fab Four. Unlike almost every other reviewer, I took exception to the work.

My review has now been published in The Amplifier, the official publication of the Society of Media Psychology and Technology, to which I belong. Here is the link:

I would be interested in your feedback.


Video Games and Cognitive Ability

The Wall Street Journal has published an article by Julie Jargon that asserts, “Gaming has cognitive benefits when teenagers and young adults play in moderation, though gamers who take it to an extreme perform worse in some tasks.” Jargon’s reporting is based on a meta-analysis of a decade’s worth of gaming’s effects by Alho, Kimmo, Moisala, Mona, and Salmela-Aro, Katariina in the journal European Psychologist.

Jargon adds, “Some studies also found gamers to have a higher volume of gray matter, the outer layer of the brain that processes information,” but also notes that viewing the kinds of fast-paced, action-packed videos often found on TikTok and related platforms “have been linked to shortened attention spans, and toggling between devices and apps has been proven to cause bottlenecks in the brain.”

Clearly, moderation is the key. Like so many things in life, going overboard is not a good idea and, in this case, can lead to a lack of ideas altogether. You can access Jargon’s article here:


The Last Kingdom, a Lost Cause

What with all the shows about Vikings populating the airwaves these days, why not check out The Last Kingdom on Netflix? Loosely based on the struggles of the several Anglo-Saxon Christian regional kingdoms that existed prior to England’s unification in 927 and “the Danes,” as the pagan raiders from Scandinavia are called, the tale takes place starting in 866 and primarily focuses on Wessex in the south of England, where King Alfred, who would go down in history as Alfred the Great, rules.

BBC produced the first two seasons of the show, which aired in 2015 and 2017. Netflix then purchased the show and took over both distribution and production for seasons 3 through 5, with the show ending earlier this year. The program is based on a series of historical novels by English author Bernard Cornwell that rely in good part on the biography of Alfred written by ninth-century historian Asser in the 890s.

Alfred dreams of uniting all of England’s autonomous regions into a single nation-state. The principal obstacle to his dream: the Vikings. Decade after decade sees alternating periods of peace and war and the TV series settles on making this into an existential struggle between Christianity and the pagan pantheon of the gods of Aesir (Odin, Thor, and company).

The British Isles, ca. 866

The hero of the series, however, is not Alfred. Rather, it is a Saxon raised by Danes, Uhtred (nee Osbert), the rightful heir to the throne of Bebbanburg in Northumbria. Osbert’s evil uncle has disenfranchised him and usurped the throne. Captured by Viking invaders following a battle that kills his parents, Uhtred comes to be loved by his captor, Ragnar the Dane, and becomes an adopted son, growing up to be a doughty warrior who vows vengeance against his uncle and intends to reclaim his birthright to the throne of Bebbanburg.

But Uhtred’s quest will not be a simple one. Instead, he becomes involved in Alfred’s machinations and allies himself with the King, rising to head of Alfred’s palace guard and ultimately, commander of the army of Wessex. Most of the series presents numerous instances of Uhtred coming to Alfred and Wessex’s rescue as they are set upon by various Viking invaders. Yet, nonetheless, Uhtred refuses to accept Christianity, which sets him up for ongoing conflicts with Alfred and Alfred’s ultra-dogmatic queen. While the show received excellent ratings on Rotten Tomatoes overall, there were a few outliers, and I now find myself among them.

I fell out of love with the show and stopped watching during episode 2 of season 3. At that point, Uhtred had lost his third wife, who died in childbirth. It seemed to me that Uhtred was destined to lose one wife per season and frankly, I just could not see that as any kind of a plot device worth pursuing. Far more aggravating for me, were King Alfred’s constant condemnations of Uhtred’s sinful acts, such as killing the occasional cleric (in one case, on purpose, in another, quite by accident) or choosing to unearth his third wife who, although a pagan, was given a Christian burial while Uhtred was off fighting Danes and then giving her a proper Viking send-off with a funeral pyre.

History records Alfred as a learned, patient man, not a dogmatic and subservient ass-kisser of any Christian cleric. The constant yo-yo-ing of the relationship between these two protagonists, along with the “wife of the season” trope, finally just wore me out.

Great production values with epic battles, fine acting by all and sundry, to be sure. But in the end, a story arc that was just too tiringly repetitive. Farewell, Uhtred.


Miracle and Wonder

I need to confess that I am very late to the audiobook thing. My first purchase was Elmore Leonard’s Freaky Deaky. Elmore Leonard has been one of my favorite fiction authors for decades. I’ve enjoyed the movies and TV series based on his work, from books like Get Shorty and Out of Sight to the TV series and movie sequel Justified, which was based on his book, Fire in the Hole.

That said, however, FD is basically a book being read aloud. It’s the digital equivalent of Books on Tape. It’s okay and Leonard’s prose is Leonard’s prose. Wonderful.

Recently, however, someone recommended an audiobook to me authored by that peripatetic observer of so many aspects of culture and trends, Malcolm Gladwell. The title: Miracle and Woder. This is an audiobook of a completely different type, one that truly takes advantage of the medium to give us an absorbing, almost addictive experience. It’s Gladwell’s interview of Paul Simon, complete with excerpts from Simon’s greatest hits and flops. In a word, it’s fascinating.

I cannot recommend this creation highly enough, and if you are a fan of either of these creative geniuses, you simply must get and play this piece.


Instagram Failure to Help

I just found out that my Instagram account has been hacked.

Someone figured out my password (my bad for not making it hard enough) and now owns my Instagram account, with all emails from “my” account now going to that fraudster. And they are using Instagram as a sales portal, probably defrauding everyone that interacts with them.

I found out only because one of the people who was in the middle of a transaction felt things didn’t seem right and looked up my name and got my email address and sent me a message.

Unfortunately, THERE IS NO WAY FOR ME TO CORRECT THE PROBLEM. Instagram has no way for me to contact anyone and does not provide a workable solution on its “help” pages. Because the fraudster’s email now shows as owner, I cannot even log in to “my” account, delete it, or even create a second account.

Meta-Facebook-Instagram’s business model has no respect whatsoever for victims of fraudulent account hackers, and I think it should. I can only hope some legislation or regulatory procedure decides to take up the challenge of getting this totally disinterested company to task for its lack of helpfulness.


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