Fraser Watts talks about the psychological dangers in the over-use of social media.
I read with interest an article by Rhiannon Williams about the dangers inherent in over-use of social media such as Facebook, and the belated recognition of these dangers by former Facebook President Sean Parker.
Looking back on the creation of Facebook he now sees that “it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other … It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
I entirely share these concerns about social media, without being Luddite about it. I now use social media quite extensively myself, as in this blog, and I truly see its value. It enables us to communicate quickly and efficiently with a much broader network than was previously possible. But I do think it has dangers, as Sean Parker says, and we need to find ways of getting the benefits while minimising the dangers.
It is helpful to view it as part of a broader problem, which is the trend to do things that have consequences for other people, but without ever meeting those people. That creates the possibility of treating other people really badly, because the intuitive empathy that stops us treating other people in inhuman ways doesn’t click in.
This has always happened to some extent in war, but it gets worse as warfare gets more high-tech. A pilot flying a bomber has no engagement with the people below who he’s aiming for, and that is all the more true of someone sitting in an office operating a drone.
The same is also increasingly true of our economic life, and my diagnosis of the banking crisis of 2008 is that it arose from people taking financial actions that had consequences for many other people, but with no human-level engagement with them.
Now, even worse, our social interactions are being conducted in ways that protect us from having to actually meet and get to know the people with whom we are interacting. That creates huge opportunities for people to exploit one another, without anyone quite realising what they are doing. It can lead us to treat others badly, and in turn we become victims of that ourselves.
Technological innovation often outstrips good sense about how to use it. New technological possibilities open up very quickly, but it takes us much longer to see their downside, and work out restraints that will protect us from them.
It is encouraging that Russ Parker has belatedly realised what Facebook has done, and to his credit that he has gone public about it. But, in the meantime, he has helped to unleash a monster that we are still struggling to get under control.