CAN YOUR SOUL SURVIVE FACEBOOK AND TWITTER? by Russell Moore for Core Christianity
GNN Note – Here’s our take on this subject – “Necessary Evil…
I sometimes post pictures on Instagram of books that I’m reading, usually just a stack on my table to let my followers know what I’m thinking about at the moment. The stack is almost always very heavily redacted. It’s not (necessarily) a list of recommendations, but a real-time rundown of what I’m consuming. Even so, I would never include in the stack Why I Don’t Believe in God or Beyond Good and Evil or Why Country Music Is Awful, for fear that some might think I agree with those ridiculous arguments. There was one book that I didn’t post on Instagram though for an entirely different reason; I didn’t want to be thought a hypocrite. I still don’t, but the case was so compelling that I’ve decided I don’t care.
The book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, by Silicon Valley scientist and entrepreneur Jason Lanier, was, in some ways, dealing with predictable issues familiar to the genre: on addiction, attention spans, bullying, and so forth. What caught my attention though was the section dealing with something approaching a disturbing account of human nature, an account that rings true with what I’ve seen both in the digital and the real ecosystems.
We all know that social media platforms amplify the voices of “trolls,” those extraordinarily wounded psyches who seek out such venues to vent their inner demons with anger. Lanier’s argument, though, is not just that social media give a hearing to trolls but that these media are making us all, a little bit, into trolls. He uses a word that is less-than-evangelical-friendly, but that is synonymous with a boorish, mean-spirited, jerk, and says that social media actually can make us into people like this.
Person or Tribe?
To make his case, Lanier compares human nature to that of wolves, arguing that in every human personality there is the mode of the solitary and that of the pack. When our “switch” is set to “Pack,” he contends, we shift into emergency mode, to the protection of the real or imagined “tribe.” This mode is necessary, he contends; think of when individuality should essentially evaporate into the larger collective, say, in a time of military attack. This should be rare, though, and the “switch” should usually be kept in the “Solitary Wolf” mode.
“When the Solitary/Pack switch is set to Pack, we become obsessed with and controlled by a pecking order,” Lanier writes. “We pounce on those below us , lest we be demoted, and we do our best to flatter and snipe at those above us at the same time. Our peers flicker between ‘ally’ and ‘enemy’ so quickly that we perceive them as individuals. They become archetypes from a comic book. The only constant basis of friendship is shared antagonism toward other packs.”
This is why, he argues, nonsense is a more useful tool of building online “viral” content than is reason or imagination or truth. When “truth” is defined by what is useful or “memeable,” one’s embrace of that “truth” is a signal not that it is based in reality but instead that it makes one part of the digital “pack.” Those who fall repeatedly for what are self-evidently absurd concepts they latch on to on the internet are not necessarily stupid (though they may be). They are looking for a place to belong, and that’s the price.