Skip to main content

The Shallows of Social Media

Bill Watts - June 24, 2015

"Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts."
-- Friedrich Nietzsche

At a relatively young age, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche began to experience debilitating headaches and nausea while writing and reading letters on a page. To overcome these issues, he began using a typewriter instead of writing by hand, somewhat of a novelty for the time period, allowing him to write without needing to see the paper. His colleagues pointed out that his writing style itself began to become more forceful as he utilized the mechanical device. Nietzsche agreed, recognizing that the medium of communication - pen or typewriter - affected the communication produced.

Modern society is again seeing a revolution in communication medium. The internet has created a worldwide network of computers and computer users. This network allows for instant communication with the outside world. Social media is a common form of this internet communication. The term "Social Media" usually refers to communication that is open for public consumption, with no specific individual recipient, often with a clear topic and target audience.

The Shallows

The Shallows, a book by Nicholas Carr, delves into the world of electronic communication and its effect on the communication content itself.

Immediacy has become an expectation of social media. As the microwave changed expectations (and quality) of food in the kitchen, the internet allows authors to immediately publish their writings to social media, without the pesky need of editorial oversight and scrutiny. Many mainstream publishers have eliminated the role of 'copy editor' within their ranks, since the delays caused by the editing process were a detriment to the shortened publishing timeline.

Readers of social media must understand that its authors and output don't go through the same research and review process of traditional media. In the past, facts and conclusions would be independently verified before print. With social media, this is no longer a guarantee. Hidden agendas, such as sponsorships, biased opinions, or payments for improved search indexing, could also influence the content being delivered in social media.

An absence of voice on social media can also be viewed as a problem by an audience. If a reader doesn't find any content generated by an author, or if the content is stale or inappropriate, the author will leave a bad impression.

The Shallows does an excellent job of analyzing the effect of the internet on modern electronic communication, including social media. The medium itself can be seen as a heavy influence over the content it creates. It is important to remember the realities of communication in an electronic world and keep those in mind when consuming that communication.