the old fogey squad comes after social media

January 23, 2011

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. There’s this brand new thing all the kids are using and it’s completely and utterly rotting their brains, turning them into a bunch of lazy slackers who don’t listen to their parents, don’t eat their vegetables, and don’t do enough homework. Sounds like the war cry of every older generation when they see the younger ones embracing something new, something around which they really can’t wrap their minds, and frankly, really don’t care to do so. First there was the outrage against a couple of hippies with long hair in tie-dye t-shirts, then we had them looking for Satanic messages in rock music, then the moral outrages over the popularity of urban culture thanks to the commercial success of hip hop and gangster rap, and now, they decided to go after the web, particularly social media sites, you know, before they rot all the kids’ brains just like apparently every new fad, idea, technology, and social shift before threatened to do if it weren’t for all these brave, introspective critics ready to leap to the rescue with books trumpeting the imminent mortal dangers…

I know that the Guardian calls it tech skepticism, but actually this is just old-fogeyism with a new target. We’ve had the very same attitude with every new mode of communication and every new trend that captured younger generations. For every new idea or every new jump forward in communication and entertainment, you can find a panel of self-appointed experts who insist they know that whatever the particular new trend is, it’s awful and measures must be taken to curtail the threat. Back in the 1950s, these so-called experts were warning kids about the dangers of comic books, which just so happened to be taking off at the time and weren’t very much liked by older generations. In the 1980s, they shrieked about sinister Satanic cults manipulating Dungeons and Dragons games, because one mother coping with grief and too creative of an imagination decided that a nefarious, supernatural plot is unfolding in basements where nerds do what we tend to do best: argue about technical minutia. In their quest to "protect youth’s fragile minds" and to sell a few books, they’re on the lookout for anything new and different so they can sound the alarms and write vacuous books warning us of phantom menaces that typically exist only in their own minds and provide no real supporting evidence.

For example, take the treatise of Nicholas Carr, highlighted by the Guardian. As we’ve already seen, Carr’s big revelation about how the internet is overwhelming people’s brains is based pretty much on his own inability to read a magazine article or a book without wandering off to check his e-mail, and if he can’t stay focused, then by the noodles of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, neither can anyone else and the web is turning us all into meat with eyes and a severe case of ADHD. Like Carr, other technophobic crusaders have also made a habit of generalizing sad anecdotes and making wild, baseless claims while citing breezy, lackluster studies, an immense disservice to any shred of legitimate critique they might have since it gets buried under hundreds of pages or thousands of words which really boil down to "things are different, I don’t like them, therefore, they’re bad, and they’re bad for kids." What social media did was expose more and more about people’s behavior as they mindlessly share things they shouldn’t or make comments that reveal their shallowness or callousness, and in all too many cases, utter factual illiteracy. It’s those displays that these technophobic old fogeys can’t wait to cite in defense of their arguments, spectacularly missing what’s going on when they do.

If you blame social media for people who show themselves to be shallow, ignorant, ill-mannered, or will just come off as complete jackasses, you’re not even blaming the messenger, you’re blaming the vehicle that let him deliver that message. Social media is just another method of communication which gives you the digital equivalent of a blank page and you can use it to write a profound insight to share with the world, something to put a smile on people’s faces, or abuse it to emit ignorant spew and settle your petty scores in public. Social media doesn’t create all those the old fogeys eye as victims of the web’s corrosive powers, it just gives them enough rope to hang themselves, and hang themselves they do, often spectacularly. And if anything, a world using social media tools is one where we can no longer hide how rare real talent and real wisdom is among the oceans of mediocrity. Maybe that’s what the old fogeys miss? That illusion of our greatness generated by those with talent and skill emitting their signal over the noise of those who couldn’t be bothered to do anything with their lives? Well, it’s gone now and the noise is louder than ever. But instead of blaming the culprits who might buy your book, it’s much easier to set out on a vendetta against technology, even when it doesn’t make sense and will serve only to continue a very unnecessary and detrimental status quo

[ illustration by Taylr ]

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  • http://wading-in.net/walkabout Just Al

    Thanks! I had been looking for a topic today for a humorous writing exercise!

  • Empath1

    Can you imagine what kids will be saying and doing when you inevitably become the old fogey ? Whatever it is, they will believe it to be more outrageous, groud breaking, new wave and important to the future of mankind than anything you can ever imagine. Every generation claims to be more enlightened than the last and it is always the young who bring it to the attention of the old as some form of rebellion against the status quo. The reality is that you are more enlightened than those who came before you but are less enlighted than those who will follow. When you’re an old fogey this will dawn on you and you will smile.

  • Greg Fish

    “Can you imagine what kids will be saying and doing when you inevitably become the old fogey?”

    Not in the slightest. But at any rate, whatever it is, it’s going to destroy society and those dang kids better get off my lawn! *grumble, grumble*