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Is Social Media Hurting Our Culture?

"We are taking away the best part of ourselves." - Author Andrew Keen

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With Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other popular social websites woven into both our personal and business lives, it is clear that society has become dependent on social media. Technology companies and marketers are, of course, advocating this dependence since it opens up more opportunities for them.

Privacy activists, on the other hand, have touted that concerns exist, but the majority of users do not appear to be worried.

Global Web Index Social Media Adoption Statistics
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Most users simply enjoy the convenience and the fun that social media sites bring and don’t think about potential implications. Andrew Keen is terrified by this attitude and expresses his feelings in his new book Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us.

Are you worried about the long-term impact of society’s dependence on social media? Is it to the detriment of our culture? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments.

Andrew Keen, Author of Digital Vertigo Keen is known for his controversial opinion of the Web after writing The Cult of the Amateur, in which he warns of the harmful consequences of the Web 2.0 culture. His latest book, however, targets social media and the negative impact that it is having on society.

“Digital Vertigo is a warning about the loss of privacy of the inner self that social media is doing to us,” said Keen.

Although his viewpoints have earned him nicknames such as the “Net’s supreme cyber-grump” and the “Antichrist of the Silicon Valley,” he prefers to think of himself as a “cheerful pessimist.” As he explained, he is not against the Internet or social media sites – he is, in fact, very active on Twitter – but he does think that we, as a society, take it too lightly.

“I recognize that the Web is the dominant reality… of the 21st century, but that doesn’t mean that we should accept it unthinkingly,” he said.

“As we retreat from real social things, and as we retreat from readily watching or listening to other people’s ideas – music, movies, books,” he continued, “we seem to be more and more preoccupied with broadcasting ourselves. And that, I think, is deeply narcissistic and ultimately doesn’t reflect well on ourselves as individuals or collectively as a species.”

Keen has made some very bold statements about the impact of sharing, or over-sharing as it may be, and even told CNET’s Dan Farber that it is “killing our species.” Although he downplayed his tone when he spoke with us, his point is that social media and the Internet need to be taken much more seriously than they both currently are.

“I’m not saying that the Internet is killing our species or that social networking is killing our species,” pointed out Keen. “What I am saying is that we need to make the Internet more suitable for human beings.”

“I’m worried that, what I would call the new collectivism of the social age – grouping the publicness of much discourse – is resulting in losing something essential about what it means to be human.”

According to him, not all social networking is really social behavior. While there have been some very good uses of social platforms such as what we saw in the Middle East and in Russia, Keen believes that, many times, these so-called demonstrations are merely “an aggregation of individuals.” For instance, he thinks this is why the Occupy Wall Street Movement hasn’t developed into a viable political movement.

Despite his worries, Keen does have some solutions for improving the influence of both the Internet and social networks on society. For starters, he thinks that people need to take responsibility for their own actions and approach social media with caution.

“We all have a responsibility as social media users to understand that, when we reveal everything about ourselves… we are impoverishing ourselves,” explained Keen. “We are taking away the best part of ourselves… the internal mystery of what it requires to build personality.”

Keen also believes that government intervention, particularly in the form of Do Not Track regulation, would help solve this problem surrounding the social Web. Furthermore, in terms of the government, he thinks bringing technologically-minded individuals to Washington would ensure more up-to-date processes for issues such as privacy.

“We need to figure out a way to reinvigorate government to make smart people go back into it and to enable it to keep up with technology,” he said. “The government needs to be more proactive, faster, [and] more aggressive.”

Ideally, Keen would like to see the Web become humanized. He wants companies such as DuckDuckGo, Everyme, and others that focus on privacy to really take off. In terms of social, he wants networks to grow and flourish but not replace physical connections.

“The biggest problem at the moment with the Internet is it hasn’t learned how to forget,” he said. “If we are to civilize the Internet [and] make it a habitable place for the 21st century, we need to teach it to forget.”

“People say I’m an antichrist and… I’m not actually,” he continued. “I’m an ex-Silicon Valley entrepreneur, I’m involved in technology every day, I’m on these networks all the time, I like my devices, but unless we can clean this thing up, unless we make it more civil, more habitable, I think we’re risking a massive Luddite reaction of kids.”

Although his perspective appears harsh, is Keen’s message accurate? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Is Social Media Hurting Our Culture?
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  • http://christianityetc.org Bob Sherbondy

    From what I’ve seen of the “social media” on Facebook, I conclude that it does hurt our culture by making what we share with each other very superficial. What we “publish” or otherwise comment on is often limited to what we “like”, and the comments often are too brief to reflect much discerning thought regarding the subjects. Even one’s understanding of what it means to have a “friend” or to be a “friend” is made very shallow when you can create a network of “friends” that includes hundreds of individuals most of whom you know nothing about, except maybe only their name and what they look like from a snapshot.

  • Andy Snyder

    The topic is compelling, but a careful headline would be better as “Are Social Media Hurting Our Culture?”

    • http://www.lubedealer.com/hiebert R. Hiebert

      Here’s an example of just how “Social Media” has impacted our culture. If one does some reflecting you can look at your own culture to see how things have changed for the better and for the worse. There is a balance in all this but if one wishes to start with the negative, communication and social skills have deteriorated but if one singles out parts of the communication skills, writing of all sorts has increased; with exception of proper grammar and spelling, etc. I’ve seen more people cocooning in their homes and in coffee shops, totally engrossed with what on their screens in front of them. That has definitely changed from seeing people chatting over a beverage to developing calloused thumbs.

  • http://www.captaincyberzone.com Cap’n Cyberzone

    I wouldn’t know since I don’t partake in it as I’m too busy working paying my way (and hopefully sharing helpful knowledge and solving some of the world’s problems along the way … life is to short to be squandered on trivial mundane pursuits like Facebook [HS Yearbook], Twitter [ICQ everybody], Google+1 [Facebook wanta-be], etc.) … later!

  • Gilo

    Give the reactionary luddite a spinning Jenny!

    Fear of the future and new tech is nothing new, it’s as old as the hills.

    The course of human history he refers to, the culture etc etc of such importance is only a decades old.

    We change and have been changing since we fell out of a tree. Narcissistic self indulgence has been the preserve of the wealthy – see cleopatra, Rasputin and simon cowell as examples from the ages. Why shouldn’t we all have a go if we want? Bring on the democratisation of self indulgence for those that want to, when they want to and how they want to. It’s not like it’s all of use.

    In the mean time can you weave me another hair shirt, this one has a hole in the elbow and I can’t find my farming needle.

    • Gilo

      Darning needle! Bloody pre emptive texting

  • http://www.marketsharewebdesign.com Kathy

    I totally agree with what you say. It’s a shame. Our kids are the ones paying the price for this. They are loosing social skills that will help them to land a job and find the right person to marry. Just take a look around the restaurant your at, everyone is too engrossed in updating their status to sit at the table and even talk to one another. People snap a photo with their cell phone to post to FB only to act like they have a life. Turn the crap off and start living, you’ll be a much better person with out it.

  • Joons

    Totally agreed.
    I’ve been working in IT since 1968, yes Virginia there were computers back then, and am now an e-comm retailer and internet marketer
    I’ve tried very hard to see the value of FB and have been on & off 3 times and now back on purely with business pages, no family, friends etc.
    As to impact on our culture it melds right into the 15 mins of fame, instant hero, instant bum, superficial garbage that we can expect from the Paris Hilton’s, Lady Gaga etc whose only claim to fame is social media without it they’d never have got out from under their rock.
    My wife still has a “social” account but the family is pretty much off the thing, novelty over and from what I see the mature social media markets are now using it for games and to some extent photo sharing (FB are not good at that). The whole privacy thing is starting to get through the sheeple’s brains thank heavens.
    The reality has hit with FB’s IPO – the game’s up – they have no strategy for mobile which is where they have to go, advertisers know it’s a crock – people do not go onto FB to buy stuff, in fact those damn ads are just a pain the the you-know-where and it’s probably a negative for companies to run ads.
    So yup the gig’s up FB and good riddance, fad over – the only problem is what is next ‘cos it’ll probably be worse!

  • http://cass-hacks.com Craig

    Social media doesn’t seem to have made much difference. People are only slightly more shallow, self-interested and generally disingenuous virtually than they are in the real world.

    Based on my experience with Facebook before I finally deleted my account, about the most serious thing anyone uses the various social media sites for is killing time waiting to be able to click on a cow again.

  • http://www.jkershaw.info James Kershaw

    Most of what I see from “friends” on FB is copyright violations of others’ photos etc. and not much thoughtful personalized ideas. An email would seem to cut through all the clutter and help one get to the point; especially if he or she had something to say. Why does FB keep all your stuff even when you’ve decided to get the hell out? That’s one big way we lose our privacy. Why didn’t I know this would happen before I signed up? This is truly the 1984 fulfilment of the world order predicted! And in this world they can even get away with it!!!

  • Jason

    I have used the discussion of social media and the youth of today rtecently during university studies, and I must say the research out there from a variety of sources directly (and indirectly) links a lot of the issues faced (and downfalls) by youth to social media. The assumption that social media is Anonymous means that youth are likely to say and do things they wouldnt (or shouldnt) otherwise do (as it isnt really monitored, no-one to say whats right or wrong), when that ‘alternate reality’ crosses paths with ‘real life’, thats when you have all the agro between youth as they dont know how to deal with real life resolution that ultimately leads to violence. As stupid as it is, people have died because of facebook posts. The more adolescents rely on this sort of interaction, the more removed they are from ‘the real world’, social implications are and will be far and wide if this is the way things keep heading.

  • http://www.mabuzi.com Kevin

    People have always been superficial and shallow. Business and politics have always bought air time to influence us.

    I think the pros of social media totally out way the cons. I can find new suppliers in India; I can connect with customers in different time zones and most importantly chat with friends and family around the world.

    Where I do see some damage done by social media is language and communication. Some of the spelling and abbreviation is becoming the norm and English will change over time.
    On personal communication, I have travelled recently with a cousin and friends and there was no talk between the kids only the feverish tapping on the keys, BBM. The kids even BBM each other while sitting next to each other. You could tell the instant the reception dropped out.
    So while we can communicate instantly around the world, we sometimes don’t communicate with the person next to us.
    So as mentioned above the cocooning affect of the individual would be the biggest problem.

    • http://www.back-pain-self-help.com Nick

      Hi Kevin,

      I’m reading what you say and remembering my most recent days as a backpacker (1997) when no backpackers had laptops or smart phones. Now they all have them– Southern Cross railway station in Melbourne is full of backpackers tapping away.

      In 1997 there were plenty of young people who hung out with each other and cut a swathe of non-awareness and self-reference wherever they went, blissfully unaware of anything but the surface glitter of a country. I suspect this situation hasn’t improved since we started owning laptops and smart phones as a matter of course.

      I would love to be proved wrong…

    • Rochelle

      I laughed when I read the first line of your message — so true. It’s a good point but just because people are imperfect doesn’t mean we should give up the fight to better ourselves. Not sure the internet is doing THAT job but I can certainly see your points as to how the internet is very helpful in a lot of ways. I think Keen is mostly talking about social media and the internet and not just the internet in general — it is a GREAT information provider among other things.

  • Bill

    Social media is garbage. It is a volunteer effort to deprive yourself of all privacy for the economic benefit of corporate shareholders. It is inherently evil, and the Congress should legislate national disclosure and privacy rules to protect the masses. It is worse than big brother, it is big brother with a profit motive. Imagine you are 20 now, and when you are 50, corporations will have detailed records of interpersonal interactions with people you don’t even remember. And all that data will be for sale to anyone who wants to buy it. I don’t have any social media page. I don’t use Google Plus. People wouldn’t let strangers video tape them in their homes 24 hours a day, but they don’t understand that their smart phones are accomplishing the same thing. Delete your profiles, dump your Google account. Save yourself before it is too late.

  • http://www.seonorthamerica.com Tom Aikins

    Who died and made this guy king of the social media commentators? He says this in your article: “We all have a responsibility as social media users to understand that, when we reveal everything about ourselves… we are impoverishing ourselves,” explained Keen. “We are taking away the best part of ourselves… the internal mystery of what it requires to build personality.” He makes this far-reaching statement which is really just his opinion and is backed by no facts or research and yet we’re just supposed to accept it out of hand? Just what is “the internal mystery of what it requires to build personality.”? Sounds like a lot of BS to me. And then he thinks that the solution to the problem is to bring in more government? What a fool. Why are you even writing about someone like this? Aren’t there better people to cover?

    • Rochelle

      I totally agree with your comment about brining in the government. That is weird. The rest of it I don’t agree with though — I can see how SM can negatively affect culture/society/individual growth. It’s like everything else — BALANCE. But keep government out of it.

  • http://www.my-mobilesite.com P Lee

    I think a whole generation is going to be well and truly F**ked up with facebook and the like. You see these young kids walking around the street, crossing the road, in the toilets on twitter Facebook and all. They will never make real friends, never make real conversation. Have you ever noticed that these young kids cannot make eye contact! They look down at the little black box. One day when things get tough, no food,no power,back to the middle ages in fact, they will die very quickly. Well done Twitter, well Done Mark zukkerman,Technology gone mad.

    • http://tautweb.com/ Taut Web

      Agree. And I also agree with Andrew Keen. This is not just an exaggeration. Social media have given mankind freedom to choose and express themselves, however the facts tell us that many of them would rather become very different persons, personal brands they know will never exist in the real world.

  • http://www.epalmspringsrealestate.com Abraham Baghbodorian

    I agree fully with Andrew Keen, and I am glad someone finally had the guts to say it as it truly is.

    We were pushed into social media sites, especially Facebook by all the media and marketers , and made to feel that we will be missing something great if we do not join… I skeptically joined and kept it professional, but very quickly discovered the stupidity of the whole concept, and the waste in time.

    I think Google + is and will remain different , posts are enlightening and interesting with no pressure!

  • http://www.mayhillpress.com Hilmur Saffell

    If I want to tell someone about myself (which is a rarity. I will do it person to person, not on the wide field of the internet, particularly not any of the social websites. I don’t need to boost my ego in that fashion.

  • Cj

    “The biggest problem at the moment with the Internet is it hasn’t learned how to forget,” he said. “If we are to civilize the Internet [and] make it a habitable place for the 21st century, we need to teach it to forget.”

    Just like burning books? Let’s forget all that social interaction and free speech?

    Combine this with his call to government intervention and I think we can see who wants to be the next czar of social media!?

    Social media may well be a double edged sword, but in terms of bringing about truth, it will perform astonishingly in the coming years.

  • http://www.evsroll.com EVsRoll

    I hardly ever use Social Media and seem to be doing fine without.

    Get outside and go do something real just for the fun of it. You really can survive without letting people know your every move.

    If you do choose to broadcast your details, know that social sites are profiting from your data.

    Keep it Real.

  • http://www.colleenross.co.za Col

    Facebook to me seemed 95% about bragging, insincerety and plagiarism and about 5% real connection. Deleting it was the best thing I ever did although to my horror, it’s never actually gone. Great to know there are others out there who find it repulsive and counter productive.

  • http://hd100.in Darshan

    I agree somewhat you mentioned.
    Keep going.
    Nice article.

  • http://www.bayarearelo.com/ Brain

    Yes, they impact on our routine life. Using too much we will be addicted of it. Today, Facebook is the most popular social networking site. I come across many students who are busy most of the time with FB. They are ruining their career. In family, FB also creates space between parents. So its use should be done limited by people.

  • http://www.stanleyoppenheimer.com searchengineman

    I spent some time 2 hours listening yesterday to Andrew Keen on Vimeo. it was a 2009 presentation.

    “Keynote speech Andrew Keen at Incubate 2009 (part 1 of 5)” on Vimeo
    Just do a search for “andrew keen keynote speech” on Google.

    Just let it play in the background while you work.

    He brings some great points..He pinpoints directly the social isolation & distrust of Authorities, which has been compounded by the Social Web.

    “Everybody’s screaming online listen to me!..Listen to me!, we talk at people..not to people on the Web. we surround ourselves with people or tribes who won’t challenge our way of thinking.”

    The Internet was an unholy alliance with the Industrial Military Complex – And the Counter Culture “Who distrusted large organizations”
    so they built it so nobody could turn it off.. The Military thought great..the enemy can’t knock out our network..in case of attack.

    He points out the death of copywrite – How it is no longer possible to reasonably monetize as an artist..without being ripped off. Advertising is not going to feed you, unless you’re a Superstar.

    Why artists are poor. and promoters are not?

    He is challenged as being a Ludite, but I couldn’t disagree with most of his points. We are surrounded by Facebook friends yet feel so lonely?

    –He mentions the “Scarcity of the Physical” – How Live Events are often the only form the Artist can use to make money.

    I would recommend
    listening to his idea’s..

    Searchengineman

  • Pete

    I was a student in one of Andrew Keen’s classes when I attended Northeastern University in the 90′s. The tone in this article reflects his approach to the content he was teaching, in that he spoke of the human essence. I liked his teaching methods and he was effective, but I didn’t subscribe to the content or ideologies that I studied.

    I think that Social Media is introducing a new type of Tribalism / Collectivism hybrid where we could become so dependent on social media that it would be the standard for how one is defined in our culture – that we become more defined by our virtual ‘Likes’ and ‘Shares’ than our intrinsic human qualities and traits.

    This is the right discussion at the right time, especially when Facebook is considering the idea of reaching out to the younger demographic. As a parent and web professional, I am very aware about how my young children will be allowed to engage and interact via these channels as they get older. When they demonstrate a control of their self-awareness and identity, then I’ll have the ‘social media talk’ with them. It makes talking about the birds and bees seem like a walk in the park.

    • Rochelle

      Boy times have changed. I am encouraged by your obvious good parenting skills and awareness and the fact that you will pass this along to your children. It would be good if more parents were as aware as you are!

  • http://www.androidtaxis.com bob

    I am completely sick of social sites, social networking and the hours I spend linking, liking, sharing and tweeting which I have to do nowadays because of the SEO power of the social networks.

    • Rochelle

      Good for you — because it may be dehumanizing us more than we think.

  • IMBack?

    Yes it is hurting our culture, it is purely evident to anyone of intelligence. I’m not worried though. It is out of my control. If anyone honestly thinks it is not affecting our culture negatively, then you my friend are officially “lost in the sauce”. I use social media for my internet marketing business and that’s it. I have real friends, and real things to do with my time. Why waste it trying to convince morons to do something useful with their time? That is time I can spend becoming more refined and cultured. Good thing is, regardless of social media, true culture will always be there just waiting for you to take notice. Work online, play in the real world. Peace.

  • Rochelle

    His message is not harsh, it is caring and it is accurate. It’s important to have this dialogue about how SM is affecting us as people and as a society. It’s important to have a BALANCE in using SM and the internet in general. Something I fear younger people are so accustomed to they will not question it or balance it with the rest of their “real” lives. I love that someone is questioning the status quo and not just going along. Good for Keen!

  • http://www.techcorona.in/smo.html social media

    Investigators believe some people posted false information on Facebook and Twitter to mislead police during the search for Leonard.

  • http://www.solutiontalks.com saran

    nice article