What might have once been called 'intellectual networking' seems to have been displaced by today's 'social networking.' During my years living on our planet, ideas often led to deep thinking, discussions, and of course, arguments. I would often analyze these later, attempting to reach useful conclusions. But these days, a flood of brief spoken or published ideas, stated with little or no supporting evidence and followed by inane 'comments' from seemingly random observers with little or no stature, threaten my productivity.
If this is what we call 'social networking' (SN), the rapidly growing popular trend, I fear for our future. With the entire world seemingly jumping on the SN bandwagon, this may soon overwhelm us, impacting productivity to the point where society is threatened. Neal Gabler, the author of Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, has recently said that social networking is drowning us in information, as we have little time (or desire) to process it! Many other intellectuals, while still a minority, have reached similar conclusions, that social networking is drowning us in information, as we have little time (or desire) to process it.
SN has contributed to books being read less and less. We are too busy linking to Facebook and Twitter; LinkedIn may have marginally greater merit; Google+ is still untested and blogging continues to crowd out responsible journalists. Authors themselves may be trending towards posting rather than going through the agonizing process of book-writing, especially when publishing volume is contracting. All in all, books and magazines which are addressing the world's social networking issues are mostly supportive as they capitalize on the rapidly growing base of social networking addicts and fans.
We're lucky that at least a few others are critical of this trend, with explicit damage descriptions such as this article from the UK's Guardian newspaper saying that "Twitter and Facebook don't connect people-they isolate them from reality." Or this one from the German government which orders all government offices to shut down Facebook 'fan pages' and remove the 'like' buttons from web sites. Going even further, it urged German citizens to "keep their fingers from clicking on social plug-ins" and "not set up a Facebook account" to avoid being profiled.
Examples abound of social networking apps which provide nonsensical information, for example statistics about bar scenes in real-time, or facial recognition which may lead somewhere dangerous or arguably useless. Recently I've become aware of how keeping up with my ever-increasing SN options, were crowding out my more mature and constructive activities. And, instead of enjoying the fact that I've now reached over 1,700 followers on Twitter, I've recognized how much valuable time I've been wasting, have slowed my output, and am still feeling guilty.
I'm not alone. I recently distributed a stream of Twitter observations, quoting Sherry Turkle, a highly respected MIT professor who had studied these issues deeply, documenting the effect of social networking on children. A few of my Twitter posts: "kids love tech, texting at meals and elsewhere, on a treadmill of communication but without real connection," "texting leads us to expect more from technology and less from each other" "we are so busy communicating, we neglect each other, especially kids," and "we have invented inspiring and enhancing technologies, yet we have allowed them to diminish us."
Ms. Turkle also published a book called Alone Together. Her position is that technology is threatening to dominate our lives and make us less human, "under the illusion of allowing us to communicate better, it is actually isolating us from real human interactions in a cyber-reality that is a poor imitation of the real world." Many indications point to a similar but budding backlash. An important and highly recommended book The Net Delusion by Evgeny Morozov, coined the term 'slacktivists' and described the illusion that clicking a mouse is a form of activism. Yet another book The Dumbest Generation by Professor Mark Bauerlein ties social networking to his forecasts that the intellectual future of the US looks dim.
Of course, the majority of Americans recognize that there have always been detractors of change. But the current speed of change threatens us unduly. I've noted those who agree that obsessive tweeting to a bunch of followers reflects a problem, but they add they had similar problems even before Twitter. Unfortunately, this is a lame conclusion.
Others explain the SN phenomenon by judging that people with lots of time on their hands use it to escape boredom. It's somewhat comforting to recognize others who see both advantages and disadvantages, but who seem to agree that the latter outweighs the former.
My own personal view is that the social networking phenomenon may inhibit creativity and productivity. I know people who are brilliant and productive and seem to benefit from SN interchange; with an open mind, I may soon follow this post with deeper analysis of the issues and with real-life examples.
Follow Gideon Gartner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gideongartner