“How a half-educated tech elite delivered us into chaos” (Guardian) says that if only the nerds behind Facebook and Google had a humanities education, these Internet monopolies would enrich our lives instead of degrading them:
Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard, where he was studying psychology and computer science, but seems to have been more interested in the latter. Now mathematics, engineering and computer science are wonderful disciplines – intellectually demanding and fulfilling. And they are economically vital for any advanced society. But mastering them teaches students very little about society or history – or indeed about human nature. As a consequence, the new masters of our universe are people who are essentially only half-educated. They have had no exposure to the humanities or the social sciences, the academic disciplines that aim to provide some understanding of how society works, of history and of the roles that beliefs, philosophies, laws, norms, religion and customs play in the evolution of human culture.
As one perceptive observer Bob O’Donnell puts it, “a liberal arts major familiar with works like Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, or even the work of ancient Greek historians, might have been able to recognise much sooner the potential for the ‘tyranny of the majority’ or other disconcerting sociological phenomena that are embedded into the very nature of today’s social media platforms. While seemingly democratic at a superficial level, a system in which the lack of structure means that all voices carry equal weight, and yet popularity, not experience or intelligence, actually drives influence, is clearly in need of more refinement and thought than it was first given.”
(Coincidentally, the author of the piece, John Naughton, had a career teaching humanities…)
The Guardian doesn’t seem to have done any fact-checking with Wikipedia, which says that Mark Zuckerberg had about $ 200,000 of education, including the humanities, in a Westchester County public school system before picking up additional humanities education at the Phillips Exeter academy for rich kids: “On his college application, Zuckerberg stated that he could read and write French, Hebrew, Latin, and ancient Greek.” Zuckerberg also had two years at Harvard.
Let’s assume that this can be legitimately described as “no exposure to the humanities.” And that explains why Facebook does not give greater prominence to approved points of view. Is that why Facebook is degrading us as human beings and degrading our society? The book iGen, however, suggests that Facebook is inherently bad:
In seven years, social media sites went from being a daily activity for half of teens to almost all of them. That’s especially true for girls: 87% of 12th-grade girls used social media sites almost every day in 2015, compared to 77% of boys. The increases in use have been even larger for minority and lower-income teens—in 2008, white and higher-SES (social scientists call this socioeconomic status, or SES) teens were more likely to use social media sites every day, but by 2015 the race and class differences had disappeared.
For example, 8th graders who spend ten or more hours a week on social media are 56% more likely to be unhappy than those who don’t. Admittedly, ten hours a week is a lot—so what about those who spend merely six hours a week or more on social media? They are still 47% more likely to say they are unhappy. But the opposite is true of in-person social interaction: those who spend more time with their friends in person are 20% less likely to be unhappy
Teens who visit social networking sites every day are actually more likely to agree “I often feel lonely,” “I often feel left out of things,” and “I often wish I had more good friends” (see Figure 3.7; there are fewer activities on this list than for happiness because the loneliness measure is asked on fewer versions of the questionnaire). In contrast, those who spend time with their friends in person or who play sports are less lonely.
Forty-eight percent more girls felt left out in 2015 than in 2010, compared to a 27% increase for boys. Girls use social media more often, giving them more opportunities to feel left out and lonely when they see their friends or classmates getting together without them. Social media are also the perfect medium for the verbal aggression favored by girls. Even before the Internet, boys tended to bully one another physically and girls verbally. Social media give middle and high school girls a 24/7 platform to carry out the verbal aggression they favor, ostracizing and excluding other girls. Girls are twice as likely as boys to experience this type of electronic bullying (known as cyberbullying); in the YRBSS survey of high school students, 22% of girls said they had been cyberbullied in the last year, compared to 10% of boys.
Social media might play a role in these feelings of inadequacy: many people post only their successes online, so many teens don’t realize that their friends fail at things, too. The social media profiles they see make them feel like failures. If they spent more time with their friends in person, they might realize that they are not the only ones making mistakes. One study found that college students who used Facebook more often were more depressed—but only if they felt more envy toward others.
Azar, the high school senior we met in earlier chapters, is an astute observer of the patina of positivity on social media covering the ugly underbelly of reality. “People post pretty Instagram posts, like ‘My life is so great.’ Their lives are crap! They’re teenagers,” she says. “[They post] ‘I’m so grateful for my bestie.’ That is b.s. You are not so grateful for your bestie, because in two weeks she’s going to, like, cheat with your boyfriend, and then y’all gonna have a bitch fight and y’all gonna, like, claw each other’s ears off. That is what a teenager’s life is.”
More: Read iGen.
Philip Greenspun’s Weblog