Nothing Nowhere At Some Other Time: A Social Media Tale

Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website Yonder and Home. Andrew is the host of Heard Tell podcast.

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13 Responses

  1. InMD
    Ignored
    says:

    Just commenting to say I appreciate the counter-take. I can get as fed up with social media as anyone and I do think its had some not great effects, and exacerbated some bad tendencies.

    At the same time I think the damage can be overstated, and veer into a pathologically misanthropic and downright authoritarian place. So, basically where the average commenter on reddit is. I still hold out hope that what we’re really going through are growing pains. We still have the ability to to make a better world and a better society if we want to.Report

  2. Mike Schilling
    Ignored
    says:

    One of the great triumphs of social media has been to prevent people from trusting a life-saving vaccine, so it has that going for it.Report

  3. Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    This is a good counter-balance to that story.

    I think that one thing that social media has done is given us proximity without community. So we’re all sitting on top of each other, hearing each other, but as much lip service as has been given to Multiculturalism, most of us have no stomach for it.

    We think “Multiculturalism” means “EPCOT World Pavilion” without realizing that EPCOT has one culture: Disney’s.

    Lots of different restaurants, façades, and songs, though.

    When it comes to learning about what Those People *REALLY* think? Well, it’s time to become The Ugly American.

    *HAM*BUR*GER*Report

  4. j r
    Ignored
    says:

    Andrew, I think you are correct to focus on the metaphor of Babel. But I also think that our common remembering of the Tower of Babel story is a bit of a misremembering. For one thing, the text never says that people were trying to become like God. It says:

    “Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens so that we may make a name for ourselves. Otherwise we will be scattered across the face of the entire earth.”

    Yes, the motivation can be characterized as hubristic. But hubristic is just another word for human, isn’t it?

    There are two ways to interpret the Babel story. One is a morality tale in which humans aspire to too much greatness and are learned a lesson by God. That’s the way we usually remember it. But there is another interpretation, which is that the story of Babel is just an explanation for how our differences came to be. In this second interpretation, we can acknowledge the role that social media has played in this present coming apart, without labeling it as either beneficent or malicious. It simply is.

    In this second interpretation, social media is literally a deus ex machina and criticizing it is pointless. You might as well criticize the waves for washing away your sand castle.Report

  5. North
    Ignored
    says:

    I like your article and his. I think you’re both right. We are as we’ve always been. Social media just makes it more visible. Perhaps it also makes some elements stronger for good and ill.Report

  6. Oscar Gordon
    Ignored
    says:

    Not sure if this was mentioned in Haidt’s piece or the comments on Jaybirds, but…

    The sin of social media is not the community aspect, it’s the magnification aspect, done for the clicks.

    When the nutjob is screaming on the street corner, you can largely ignore them. If they insist on getting in your face and personal space, there’s recourse available.

    On social media, the nut gets shoved in your face by the algorithms, until you tell the nut to go away. But it’s more insidious than that, because the algorithms are not just shoving random nuts in your face, they are examining you and finding nuts you sympathize with and that fall into your philosophical blind spots, or ones that you are so violently opposed to you that you have to rage click.

    And since many of us have poorly tuned BS detectors, we fail to realize the curation being done for us, even when we are told the algorithms are doing it.Report

    • dhex in reply to Oscar Gordon
      Ignored
      says:

      being able to tune one’s media intake this finely probably has some impact on the ability to tolerate differences for heavy users of platforms. i’ve seen some people blame it on trump (in terms of both “radicalization” and “trump derangement syndrome”) but i don’t think that’s true.

      i am a big proponent of the notion that the folk theory of persuasion – aka their positions are brainwashing, ours are subtle and fragile and always the underdog – are entirely too widespread and too broken to the point where it is impossible for most of the people on this website to understand how someone came to another position without resorting to some variation on this argument. we all believe things, some of which are unnecessarily simplified and some of which are entirely false. but what people believe about how others come to believe things is really busted.

      to extrapolate poorly, i haven’t had to listen to the radio in more than a decade. i have a finely-tuned musical playlist at my fingertips at all hours of the day and night, reaching back from the dawn of recorded music to something that just hit soundcloud this afternoon. and because my tastes are super awesome, it is a nonstop erotic cabaret for the ears. {chef’s kiss}

      as such, when i’m out in public and have to hear rap-rock country or kpop or the decemberists or the b-52s – even for a few seconds – it feels *bad*. because my ears aren’t used to having to hear the unlistenable, my overton window* of music has shifted so far into the soft confines of my controlled environments that even the slightest encroachment is heightened significantly in import and invasiveness.

      i’d probably think certain things were remarkably bad regardless – especially those who shall not be named aka the group with the clinically insane, qanon-level fandom – but i probably wouldn’t tell stories about the aforementioned purveyors of musical garbage to friends and strangers alike, because it wouldn’t feel as acutely bad.

      *sorryReport

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to dhex
        Ignored
        says:

        It’s not persuasion, it’s reinforcement. The algorithms don’t try to persuade, they just want you to click on stuff. They don’t care if you do it out of rage or agreement, as long as you follow the link. So the algorithms/AI look at what you click on, and present other things in that general direction, until you stop clicking on links.

        So it’s not about your values, as much as about how much you give into the dopamine hit of rage clicking or following that link that is a just further down a curiously sympathetic rabbit hole.Report

    • Pinky in reply to Oscar Gordon
      Ignored
      says:

      Sorry if I’m going off on a tangent here. I don’t want to derail anything you’ve got going. But it seems like there’s no problem if people either leave social media or improve their detectors. The former is as easily said as done, and the latter is just part of maturing. I mean, Twitter is like a leper colony. Even if you go in with good intentions you’re going to get infected. But any of the sites, I think you can navigate them and get 50% of the benefits with nearly none of the garbage, and never deal with the algorithms.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Pinky
        Ignored
        says:

        Getting off social media is the smart move. Absent that, you need to be very aware of what the algorithms are serving up, and don’t take the candy.Report

  7. Pinky
    Ignored
    says:

    There’s one undiscussed point in support of the Uniquely Stupid Theorem. We’re in a 16-year run of stupid presidents, the stupidest of my lifetime and I’m fairly sure the stupidest run in our history.

    Barack Obama was what stupid people think smart people sound like. He was profoundly uncurious. He grew up knowing that you could get full points on an essay question if you could repeat one point from each side then assert your side’s position. There’s no indication that he ever thought about anything other than the subject of his two early books, which is to say, himself.

    Donald Trump was a caricature of a lot of things including angry social media. He followed his gut no matter what, which is another way of saying he didn’t think. If an idea got positive crowd response, it was his. If a person gave him a negative response, he was an enemy. It’s shocking that he’s comparably stupid to his predecessor and successor.

    Joe Biden is a small-pond party hack who, like many of them, thought he was ready for the big pond. His intellectual insecurity makes him prone to stubbornness and back room politicking. He was never smart, but his decline in communication skills indicates something graver. If I were a Cabinet member I’d be supporting a 25th Amendment intervention.

    I know people criticized Reagan, and certainly by the end of his presidency he’d lost some of his sharpness, but fortunately he had had such a clear vision that his administration was able to pursue it without constant leadership. People look down on W, but the three most striking moments of his presidency were where he changed course based on changing circumstances (9/11, the surge, and the financial crisis). None of our recent presidents were capable of adapting.Report

  8. Mike Schilling
    Ignored
    says:

    Sarah Palin was 14 years ago. W was 22. Reagan was 42. In other words, 10 years is too short a time scale.Report

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