Monthly Archives: November 2022

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.

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