In article that she wrote for the New York Times, Sherry Turkle explains how the way that we manage our time in relation to technology is affecting our interpersonal relations. We seem to be spending more time with our noses in our phones than actually having in-person, face-to-face conversations. As such, we are losing the ability to empathize with others since we are not looking directly at their faces for reactionary and emotional cues. She says that technology, particularly phones has become so ubiquitous in our culture that those of a younger generation who were raised with it, have a hard time functioning for a few minutes without checking their devices. We try to multitask- checking our phones while in the middle of a conversation, still seeming like we are paying attention to what is going on in two separate realms. In reality, this is not possible and we cannot put our full focus in two places at once. Turkle urges the decrease in phone usage in order to reinstate values and capabilities of empathy and face-to-face interaction, and to lessen dependency on phones.
This is a really interesting idea when put in contrast with Michael Wesch’s theory of “knowledgeable vs. knowledge-able.” He says that we should teach the younger generation to be more discerning regarding media content online, but also to teach them how to regain agency by making their own content. While it warns of the dangers of technology, media, and the internet, it still encourages their use. Turkle would likely agree with him when he acknowledges that changes in media affect changes in relationships through mediated messages. However, they each take different approaches to this problem.
Ultimately, there is no right answer to how to solve this problem, likely because it is too far embedded in our culture at this point. But, I believe that there are steps that we as individuals can take to decrease our own technological use and reintegrate ourselves into the physical sphere.
We all know that the way to a millennial’s heart is through a meme. So when I was assigned to make a meme FOR A CLASS, no less, let me just say that I was pretty thrilled. I was also a little overwhelmed, because while I am an avid meme consumer, I am very much not a meme creator. I didn’t know if I could live up to the meme precedents of those who have come before me and fought the good fight to ensure the reigning dominance of meme culture.
My class was assigned to make memes specifically related to Facebook and privacy (or lack thereof if we’re being honest), which either has the potential to go viral, or just be appealing to a very niche audience. Also, my twitter account for class (where we were meant to post our memes) only has about 20 followers. So I wasn’t expecting to have my meme gain that much traction. As of right now, it only has 1 ‘like’– from my professor (shoutout to Dr. Taub!!).
As you can above, it is a very political, very partisan meme that a large portion of the population likely will not agree with. I think meme culture when it has to do with politics is akin to satire. We tend to absorb more information and react to it more strongly when it is in a comedic format. I know myself and my friends will typically laugh and say something along the lines of “wow, that was too real,” implying that the method in which the content was conveyed really made us stop and think about the actual underlying message. I think this is very similar with memes, and millennials in particular seem to have similar reactions.
However, memes are also very reactionary in their nature, and are created in response to an event. So they are someone’s own interpretation, and are usually pretty emotionally charged. While this may be entertaining, it is not informative by any means, because it is generally very biased, and in my case, partisan. This will then cause very polarizing reactions in consumers of the meme, and can be a dangerous minefield when it gains traction. People will react very strongly, negatively and positively, and no one will have their minds changed. It will just serve to reinforce people’s already existing beliefs, regardless of what side they are on.
One of the key features of the internet is Access: everyone has access to the majority of websites, to tools of content creation, and to strangers around the world. It is positioned as a fairly free-market enterprise, with easy entry for anyone and everyone. So while this allows us to talk to people across the world or try to make the next big meme, it also allows for people with less savory intent to commit less savory actions online.
The ease of content creation and sharing, with essentially no boundaries or guidelines technically allows for anyone to express any opinion in an unlimited amount of formats. We have access to a variety of networks and forums online, but so do groups who would spread messages of hatred and prejudice. There are neo-nazi and alt-right forums specifically dedicated to the instruction of the dissemination of hateful, exaggerated, or even falsified information.
Social media networks especially have a hand in manipulating the content that we see and in the content that gets shown to the public. As new information has been breaking in the news, we have been learning more and more about the algorithms that have been employed to essentially use the unassuming public as an experiment in media manipulation theories (without their consent, no less). These algorithms take our data from our profiles, and create their own file of who we are, our preferences, etc. and will often show us content that they think aligns with our preferences (often political). Sometimes, it will show us even more extreme content, that will make us even more impassioned. It will just leave out the other side altogether, which prevents us from getting a more holistic perspective on an issue. We also trust our friends more than the media, as public distrust in the media has increased significantly, so we are more likely to engage with content that our friends have shared.
Social media networks like Facebook and Twitter know this, and capitalize upon it to show us more potentially polarizing content. Individuals are also able to garner a significant social media presence, as “popularity” through gaining followers, likes, and shares is accessible to anyone. Once they gain popularity/notoriety, their content is more likely to show up in our feeds. Knowing this, hate groups will also share tips amongst themselves of how to gain this kind of popularity and presence.
So while the ease of navigation of the internet and social networks makes connecting with each other much easier, it also makes us more vulnerable to manipulations online.
So here’s the deal: We all know that we have to be careful on the Internet. I know I’ve been told since like the 7th or 8th grade when social media was really emerging that we really have to monitor what we post on the Internet– “don’t post your address; don’t post your phone number; don’t post your birthday; don’t give just anyone your payment information; don’t tell anyone your social security number; don’t tell anyone your deepest darkest fears and how they can cause you the most extreme anxiety, etc.” You know, things like that.
Turns out, you also literally can’t even tell anyone about that really cool outfit you bought for that really cool event you’re going to (which incidentally, you also can’t tell anyone about) because THEY WILL USE IT TO SELL YOU TO ADVERTISERS!!! I mean, not to get incredibly conspiratorial and alarmist, because there’s an incredibly slim chance that your actual friends will directly sell you out, but those in power of social media sites will mine any and all of your information, in order to profile you and categorize you, so that they can covertly manipulate you online. In his article for NJTechReviews, Muhlenberg student Jake Krol writes, “Facebook is at the will of its own conscious and user agreement. There is no regulation in the United States in regards to social networks and privacy.” So basically, Facebook can technically operate outside the limits of the government and take over the world if they really wanted to (they probably won’t- that’s just me being overdramatic).
Even in light of the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, many of us (myself included) still will not delete our Facebook accounts. After listening to many interviews for my online class, many people are reluctant to delete their accounts because of how pervasive Facebook is in our society, and how reliant upon it we have become. This hesitancy to condemn Facebook, even after events of their betrayal of user’s information has been revealed just goes to show that social media is not just a recreational platform– it needs to be taken seriously as a legitimate tool in the functioning and structuring of American society.