In the recently published column “Look outside social media for life’s most valuable moments,” author Kirby McDaniel suggests that social media is a poor substitute for real interactions, emotions and experiences in life. My response is not to refute McDaniel’s claims. In fact, some scholars, including MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle, agree with some aspects of the “social media is isolating” argument. Instead, I’d like to suggest that we approach the subject of media in daily life with more nuance.
First, it’s important to note that every new form of media has been heralded by some as isolating and potentially dangerous. As early as around 370 BCE, Plato argued in Phaedrus that the popularization of writing would lower public discourse and could not do justice to clear arguments. More recently, we have seen (and continue to see) similar panics regarding film and television as isolating, maybe morally questionable. Today, commentary on social media is just the most recent in a long history of skepticism toward communicative technology. This skepticism is not necessarily bad, but it shouldn’t be assumed outright.
With that in mind, I suggest we shouldn’t be so quick to pass judgment on these technologies as good or bad. Technology historian Melvin Kranzberg famously argued, “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.” Media changes how we live in the world, but we shouldn’t necessarily assume that it cuts us out of that world either. Writer Nathan Jurgenson argues in his essay “The IRL Fetish” that emphasizing “real life” as separate from “offline” fails to acknowledge that “what we do while connected is inseparable from what we do when disconnected.” Instead of looking outside of social media for valuable moments, my response is that we should instead embrace those moments throughout our lives — both offline and online.
— Kyle Wrather, a media studies PhD candidate from Columbus, Mississippi, in response to Kirby McDaniel’s Tuesday column.