Is Social Media Hurting Our Culture?

    June 15, 2012

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.