Earlier in the year, I reestablished a connection with former classmate from high school. We were the best of friends in the early years, but that all ended with a hormone-and-alcohol fueled fist-fight over something really stupid. We spent the rest of our high school days at odds, and he engaged in some pretty nasty bullying behavior against me.
At graduation, we finally and thankfully parted ways, but at reunions, we carried on like none of that happened, but any thoughts or feelings about that fight and the bullying remained unexpressed.
I had found a couple of photos of him in my archive. I directly sent him one image that showed him with family members via text, which immediately sparked a dialogue. The other, I posted publicly on my timeline, describing him as my “then-friend.” The description struck a chord with him, prompting an unsolicited letter of apology for his past behavior. I found myself at a loss for words to express my gratitude for his profoundly touching gesture.
In a subsequent email, he asked if we might become “friends” on Facebook, to which I replied, “Why spoil a good thing?”
Mark Zuckerberg’s platitudes about his little network bringing people together notwithstanding, all evidence points to social media as a failed experiment to promote social harmony. Considering the discord it has sown, and the ease at which corrupting influences can spread their bile through its network, the balance sheet shows no net benefit to society.
While I’m someone who believes that more democracy is generally better than less, I think Facebook serves as a cautionary rebuttal. Whether I insulate myself from the “crap” it spews is now irrelevant. Facebook has positioned itself as our primary conduit of information.
Facebook has replaced, among other things, commercial drive-time radio as the source of news for mainstream America. Before social media, the media spoon fed us of news snippets completely devoid of context or nuance but with ample straw men and red herrings read by jocular DJs.
Today, we drown in a deluge of misinformation raining down upon us from which there’s no escape, because even the “reputable” news sources have to play the click-game to get more “likes.” The flow emerges toxic from the sewer lines, not potable from a faucet.
What’s worse, I’m certain that our feeds warp our perspective of the world around us. The news pounds us with the events taking place in Portland or Kenosha or DC, it blasts a firehose of assertions and commentary about the president and his challengers, while subjectively choosing its sources and corroborations. It exists to feed our fears.
If I got in my car and started driving around the country, would I get the impression that we’re really so much at odds with each other? Does this narrative truly reflect the state of the country today? Instinctively, and thanks to my own personal experiences, I doubt it. Facebook and the media are selling us a false narrative. Most people are getting along fine, or they would be if Facebook didn’t provide pulpits for everyone.
When I meet friends for dinner or out for a beer, I open a conversation about my raging concerns. Even my best friends would soon lose that status if they dropped by every morning to tell me how to vote. Online, we lose that filter, and I’m as guilty of that as anyone. I’ve lost actual friends and stopped following people left and right. I’ve lost respect for people I’ve known for years. I can’t help it. Evolution has yet to breed out our tribal instincts.
That all bothers me to no end, because despite the claims Zuckerberg makes of his creation, I’ve never seen more effective agent for social isolation.