At our recent family Easter gathering, a family member known for strong opinions asked me: “Are you on Twitter?”
Upon hearing my “No,” he redirected the question to my son then launched into an extended analysis of Elon Musk’s efforts to purchase the social media platform. Whether he thought Twitter’s “poison pill” action was good or bad, I can’t say, because I immediately stopped paying attention.
The topic couldn’t have been of less interest to me — and was just the latest example of why I’m grateful not to be on social media. That’s gratitude I feel rather often.
Every time social media fuels a demagogue’s unfounded speculations, treats some vapid topic as the year’s biggest controversy, or spreads a potentially self-harming behavior like a contagion, I’m grateful.
That’s not to say I’m uninterested in the topics of the day. But traditional media and self-guided research on the Internet satisfies my need to know, largely free of algorithms that force-feed others.
Frankly, I’ve never been comfortable with social media, because it is next to impossible to know with whom you are communicating. “Know your audience” is a guiding principle in traditional media within which I’ve spent my career.
Most people get around that by posting the banal (kids’ pictures and dinner entrées), which draws little attention. Too many others though, desiring as many responses as possible, post the controversial.
There’s an old saying that opinions are like anuses — everyone has one. There are too many of both on social media.
The result is a world made darker by the focused negativity; polarized by the misinformation and algorithms; and emotionally more harmful through artificial constructs feeding unrealistic expectations. People are being separated by growing numbers of divisions, and becoming isolated by the time expended and focus on social media.
Are there positives about social media? Yes, of course. It can be an effective way to share information, promote events and worthy causes. Families and friends can find ways to share meaningfully over distances.
Weighed on a scale, however, the balance tilts toward an anti-social media that causes more harm than benefit. Want proof? Go to your favorite grocery store, observe and compare.
Grocery stores are our society’s village squares. Because everyone needs food, this is where all types and ages of people mingle and interact for at least a few minutes of time.
Almost without fail, you will find people to be pleasant and polite, often friendly. Even if preoccupied or in a rush, they’ll still strive to avoid your path and display common consideration.
People are going about their lives, treating others as they’d want to be treated and keeping their opinions to themselves. To me, grocery stores represent a true “social” medium, a place where people are physically interacting with one another.
Egos are muted. Rudeness is unusual. Bad behavior is rare. Can the same be said with social media?
These observations are generalizations. Some users post or share beautiful, uplifting, encouraging content on social media. And we’ve all had experiences with rude people in stores.
But there is any question that at a time when social media platforms are proliferating, people are becoming more fragmented, depressed, negative, opinionated, polarized, isolated — even dangerous?
Increasingly, virtual mobs are ruling, shouting down dissenting voices, stunting free-thinking and sowing civil discord without blind gathering; Participants never leave their computers or look up from their smartphones. Impressionable young people are making profound decisions, affecting — even losing — their lives, due to the influences of others who don’t even know them.
Stay on social media if you want, but I’m doing just fine without it. For my social fixes I’ll go to the grocery store, downtown, a park, a concert — or to a holiday gathering where I can have a good conversation with my opinionated family member — after he gets off the topic of Twitter.
To respond to this column — or read other columns by Dave Hurst — visit www.hurstmediaworks.com.