The anti-so­cial me­dia

Nor'wester (Springdale) - - EDITORIAL -

Dear Editor,

Once upon a time I worked in Lon­don. The daily com­mute was two hours there and two hours back. Not un­usual in that city. You got to know some of your fel­low com­muters.

The rail­way plat­form was crowded and buzzing with con­ver­sa­tion along the lines of “Mornin’ Bob – how’s the kids?” On the train, those not catch­ing a bit of sleep dis­cussed, ar­gued and shared items from the daily pa­per.

In Lon­don re­cently, I went to town dur­ing the morn­ing com­mute. The rail­way plat­form was crowded and quiet. Rows of com­muters stood with heads down gaz­ing at a screen, with thumbs rapidly mov­ing. On the train the jour­ney was hushed.

Sim­i­larly in Canada. I am an East­ern Health fre­quent-flyer. At one time, in the doc­tor’s of­fice, you chat­ted to other pa­tients. Now there are the bent necks and thumbs. Doc­tors are see­ing painful re­sults from hunch­ing over a de­vice for too long, re­sult­ing in up­per back mus­cle strain, a con­di­tion called “text neck” — of spe­cial con­cern for teenagers whose spines are still de­vel­op­ing.

So­cial me­dia sup­port­ers say there is more hu­man in­ter­ac­tion via the var­i­ous plat­forms be­cause we are able to con­nect with any­one, ex­chang­ing pho­tos, news, and opin­ions and dis­cussing hu­man af­fairs. This is mis­lead­ing on two counts.

First: com­plete com­mu­ni­ca­tion takes place face-to-face and has two com­po­nents, the spoken word and the ac­com­pa­ny­ing body lan­guage. When we lis­ten we are also, con­sciously or un­con­sciously, mak­ing judg­ments about, for ex­am­ple, the sin­cer­ity or truth­ful­ness of the speaker. We are in­ter­pret­ing feel­ings, at­ti­tudes and moods, through body pos­ture, fa­cial ex­pres­sion and eye move­ment. None of which is pos­si­ble on the lit­tle screen.

Of course, the op­por­tu­ni­ties for face-to-face con­ver­sa­tions are rel­a­tively lim­ited, but at least we can be aware that the screen may not tell the whole or the truth­ful story.

When and how spoken word evolved is much de­bated aca­dem­i­cally. Cer­tainly it was a long time ago, be­fore which our an­ces­tors com­mu­ni­cated with ex­pres­sions, ges­tures and vo­cal sounds (plus grunt­ing, prob­a­bly). The abil­ity to in­ter­pret these signs be­came imbed­ded in our na­ture, and is still used to­day (mi­nus grunt­ing, hope­fully). Politi­cians’ me­dia train­ing in­cludes body lan­guage. (Don­ald Trump fre­quently uses an or­a­tor­i­cal ges­ture favoured by Mar­cus Tul­lius Cicero around 63 BC — watch the pres­i­dent’s right hand).

Sec­ond: the prom­ise of so­cial me­dia opening up the world to free dis­cus­sion has not been re­al­ized. In­stead, the like-minded co­a­lesce and re­in­force their be­liefs within their own bub­ble or echo cham­ber. Those ex­press­ing al­ter­na­tives are ex­cluded, es­pe­cially those with views con­trary to to­day’s pop­u­lar moral­ity but dare not ut­ter them lest they are ridiculed or abused. This is un­healthy.

Used care­fully and crit­i­cally, the in­ter­con­nec­tiv­ity through In­ter­net is of value in re­search, ed­u­ca­tion, gov­ern­ment and com­merce. As for so­cial­iz­ing, well, users will make of it what they must.

The In­ter­net is a pow­er­ful tool, but one with a sharp edge. Cau­tion is re­quired.

De­nis Brown St. John’s

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