A friend shared a relatively short but no less incisive and thoughtful article by Jonathan Haidt in ‘The Atlantic’ on ‘The Dark Psychology of Social Networks’. Some key sentences that I found thoughtful:
Social media, with its displays of likes, friends, followers, and retweets, has pulled our sociometers out of our private thoughts and posted them for all to see…..
……Human beings evolved to gossip, preen, manipulate, and ostracize. We are easily lured into this new gladiatorial circus, even when we know that it can make us cruel and shallow. As the Yale psychologist Molly Crockett has argued, the normal forces that might stop us from joining an outrage mob—such as time to reflect and cool off, or feelings of empathy for a person being humiliated—are attenuated when we can’t see the person’s face, and when we are asked, many times a day, to take a side by publicly “liking” the condemnation…….
……..A multiplicity of forces are pushing America toward greater polarization. But social media in the years since 2013 has become a powerful accelerant for anyone who wants to start a fire………..
……….Even though they have unprecedented access to all that has ever been written and digitized, members of Gen Z (those born after 1995 or so) may find themselves less familiar with the accumulated wisdom of humanity than any recent generation, and therefore more prone to embrace ideas that bring social prestige within their immediate network yet are ultimately misguided………….
………..Many americans may think that the chaos of our time has been caused by the current occupant of the White House, and that things will return to normal whenever he leaves. But if our analysis is correct, this will not happen. [Link]
To me, the last extract I have posted above is as important as any that preceded it. Perhaps, the penultimate extract is equally important. We consume what is easily available. Youth are especially vulnerable to the superficial trends that bring social prestige and popularity. Or, in economics terms, there is the opportunity cost to time. They will not have time or energy to peruse ‘the accumulated wisdom of humanity’ as Jonathan Haidt puts it.
Other lessons: Technology has provided an avenue (well, more than one avenue) for our worst instincts to be displayed and played out in public. That is why technology cannot be the answer to our behavioural problems. Indeed, the advent of social media, its spread and embrace have shown that they accentuate our worst behavioural instincts.
That is why sometimes social restrictions and conventions help in keeping our worst ideas, imaginations and thoughts private. In a way, ‘fake it until you make it’ works. That is, if one is forced to practise reasonable communication all the time because tehre is no avenue to practise and spread unreasonable communication, two things happen: (1) reasoable communication becomes a habit and (ii) we do not infect others with unreasonable communication. There is a positive social multiplier effect too.
This takes time. But, what we have seen is that the painstaking work, accomplished over centuries, of making us ‘reasonable and responsible’ could be so easily undone within a decade or two.
Saurabh Mukherjea’s Marcellus Investments shared the speech by Sacha Baron Cohen delivered when he recevied the ‘ADL International Leadership award’. There are many convergent points between his speech and some of the issues that Jon Haidt highlights. His reference to the ‘Silicon Six’ makes one think. The question is if it would make them think.