The Internet and Social Media: for Better or for Worse

Much debate over the Internet has ensued its booming popularity in the 90s, and the argument of its pros versus its cons has yet to be settled. Technology enabled the progress of the Internet in ways we would have never imagined; it’s hard to see what downfalls the World Wide Web brings. As technology supposedly improves our lives through tools such as the Internet and different avenues of social media, we inherently become more and more dependent on it. Yet, how does the existence of the internet and social media and our dependency on it affect our society? Does it bring our society together in a tighter community or widen the gap between us, tearing us further apart?

At first glance, global events around us would make most inclined to say the internet unites societies for the better. No doubt the media played a huge role in the Egyptian Revolution, for example, as Facebook was the major medium of communication among the protestors along with Short Message Services (SMS) via cell phones. In this case, new media helped a society achieve the political freedom and choice that they had wanted for years; it united them in their common ground and purpose in wanting change.

Though that may be the argument for most, Neil Postman claims otherwise, implementing in his book “Technopoly” that there is no transcendent sense of purpose or cultural meaning left within a society because of technology. In quoting Postman:

“The milieu in which Technology flourishes is one in which the tie between information and human purpose has been severed, i.e., information appears indiscriminately, directed at no one in particular, in enormous volume and at high speeds, and disconnected from theory, meaning, or purpose.”

Postman views society as degenerating when technology progresses, and singles out the overflow of easily available information due to the sophistication of today’s internet and social media. The invention of the telegraph, for example, transformed the preference for news from accurate, quality reports to speed. Today, the quickest newspaper or online news portal triumphs the more accurate one. When time is a factor, the quality of the news piece inevitably gets compromised, and with this comes a misguided purpose in churning out news for the public, as the aim would be to produce news as soon as possible rather than to produce news as accurately as possible.

The increased use of the web and social media as the main method of obtaining news and information could possibly split a society if technology usage is concentrated on a single generation. As the younger generation utilizes social media more and more, the gap between their understanding of what news is differs even more from the older generation, who for the most part are conditioned to read their news off printed newspapers. Terminologies and technical jargon, for example, would also become more and more integrated in our everyday speech, creating barriers within a single language. The word “tweet” for example, has taken on a whole new meaning in the span of five years, as it no longer brings to mind animal and song, a point mentioned by Postman when he discusses how technology undermines an old concept by creating a new one.

Yet apart from linguistic and cultural decline, there is a deeper sense of deterioration with the advancement of technology, affecting societies regardless of culture, background and location. The advancement of technology has come to replace belief systems, and Postman believes that this reflects a loss of belief in ourselves. With more and more information at our disposal through social media and the World Wide Web, we begin to favor technology over faiths and traditions, pitting one against the other; if the media promises informational accuracy, we believe in it like how people from the Middle Ages believed in religion. When we believe in and trust technology more so than our moral values and faith systems, leading us to pick fact over truth, revealing a major change in attitude and a loss of faith.

And with the complete disposal of faith, the only thing we have left are cold, hard facts, leaving behind a broken society without beliefs, purpose and truth.



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