In his compelling new chapbook for Encounter — The Social Media Upheaval — Glenn Harlan Reynolds, aka The Instapundit, aka The Blogfather, asserts that social media is, to put it bluntly, driving us nuts.
“Society seems to be going steadily crazier,” he writes. “And maybe it doesn’t seem to be. Maybe it actually is growing crazier.”
As the man himself would put it, indeed.
At least it’s made me crazier as it has virtually everyone else I know who spends untold hours on Twitter, yelling and screaming at each other unto death, cursing foes and even friends to a fare-thee-well over op-eds and articles most of those same people, on either side, haven’t read in the first place. (Reynolds shows this statistically.)
And that is only one of the minor dislocations going on. If you really want the worst of it, consult a teenager. The new generation is living a form of social media-induced anomie that dwarfs anything conceived of in the 1950s. Their lives are conducted on Instagram and Snapchat, etc. Talk face-to-face or even on the phone? Not if they can help it. Texting is the only safe way to communicate and avoid the actual perils of messy human interaction. Better to hide behind banal emoticons or simplistic acronyms like LOL. How depressing. And lonely.
Life with our heads buried in a cellphone has become a cliché. We see it on every street corner and too often in the driver’s seat of the next car. In the fifties, Allen Ginsberg wrote of “looking for an angry fix.” But that was only a few people. Now virtually half the world is looking for a “dopamine fix” from a “like” on Facebook. How pathetic. And alienated.
Meanwhile, everything is going at warp speed. Time to actually read a book? Only on an airplane.
In the midst of all this, not entirely surprisingly, IQs have been going down steadily across the Western world. In other words, social media is turning us into idiots with ADD. To be honest, I have seen this in myself — and it’s scary. Others too have told me they have experienced a dumbing down. Reynolds notes that this has been little reported. (No surprise there.) Thanks, Mssrs. Zuckerberg, Dorsey, Bezos, Page, Brin, etc., etc.
On top of all this is that little matter of political bias — the leftward tilt of the tech giants that is leading us to a monolithic society straight out of Orwell and Huxley that no one has as yet figured out how to counter, (Competitive conservative sites have basically failed due to first-mover advantage, although a new one, Parler, has emerged. Alas, they too are using that spooky term “engagement” embraced by social media gurus that is the royal road to thought control, this time from the right.)
Reynolds compares the rupture we are undergoing to the agricultural revolution when, after the hunter-gatherer period, humanity first banded together in villages to tend the land and instantly began to contract plague-like diseases that didn’t disappear for centuries.
That comparison sounds apocalyptic, but, unfortunately, there’s some truth to it. It’s that bad. Maybe we weren’t born for this. But what it is to be done?
In the latter parts of his book, Glenn deals with that question of solutions that is very much in the forefront of national discussion, even in our reprobate Congress. He shies away from any answers that involve government oversight or restriction of speech because of the age-old problem of who would watch the watchers. (I nominate James Comey.) But surprisingly, Reynolds, who is often of a libertarian tilt, is willing to forego those principles and use antitrust legislation to break up the tech giants. The situation is too grave for ideological purity. Again, his arguments are strong.
The Social Media Upheaval is, as noted, a short book, but it’s got a lot say in a compressed form and provides the best roadmap so far to the pervasive tech-media onslaught we are all constantly affected and, yes, even driven crazy by — and how to solve it.
Roger L, Simon — co-founder and CEO emeritus of PJ Media — readily admits he has been friends with Glenn Reynolds for nearly two decades, so you can factor that into the above. But he further assures you he would never lie and praise a book he didn’t think was really good. Books are too important. They outlast us.