Bill Keller Throws Rocks At The Social Web

Bill Keller continues to expose his anger that the web is changing the world in unexpected ways, this time going after Twitter and social media in general:

Bill Keller,  The Twitter Trap

The most obvious drawback of social media is that they are aggressive distractions. Unlike the virtual fireplace or that nesting pair of red-tailed hawks we have been live-streaming on, Twitter is not just an ambient presence. It demands attention and response. It is the enemy of contemplation. Every time my TweetDeck shoots a new tweet to my desktop, I experience a little dopamine spritz that takes me away from … from … wait, what was I saying?

My mistrust of social media is intensified by the ephemeral nature of these communications. They are the epitome of in-one-ear-and-out-the-other, which was my mother’s trope for a failure to connect.

I’m not even sure these new instruments are genuinely “social.” There is something decidedly faux about the camaraderie of Facebook, something illusory about the connectedness of Twitter. Eavesdrop on a conversation as it surges through the digital crowd, and more often than not it is reductive and redundant. Following an argument among the Twits is like listening to preschoolers quarreling: You did! Did not! Did too! Did not!

So, in essence, Keller is saying that what we are doing is illegitimate, it is a cheapening of what mature people do.

Keller joins those who are saying that the web makes us stupid, we should disconnect, that only old school, face-to-face social relationships are ‘real’, and anyone who advocates social connection is immature and psychologically stunted.

And then he moves to proactively attack those who would disagree with him:

I realize I am inviting blowback from passionate Tweeters, from aging academics who stoke their charisma by overpraising every novelty and from colleagues at The Times who are refining a social-media strategy to expand the reach of our journalism. So let me be clear that Twitter is a brilliant device — a megaphone for promotion, a seine for information, a helpful organizing tool for everything from dog-lover meet-ups to revolutions. It restores serendipity to the flow of information. Though I am not much of a Tweeter and pay little attention to my Facebook account, I love to see something I’ve written neatly bitly’d and shared around the Twittersphere, even when I know — now, for instance — that the verdict of the crowd will be hostile.

The shortcomings of social media would not bother me awfully if I did not suspect that Facebook friendship and Twitter chatter are displacing real rapport and real conversation, just as Gutenberg’s device displaced remembering. The things we may be unlearning, tweet by tweet — complexity, acuity, patience, wisdom, intimacy — are things that matter.

Keller has completely missed the social revolution as a participant, and has joined the reactionaries, making the unfounded argument that we are losing cognitive skills or bemoaning the loss of outmoded cultural norms. 

I reject the argument that we are harming ourselves or threatening Western civilization by following people’s observations on Twitter, and there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that Twitter is so popular in part because it lines up with the way that the human mind is wired.

But of course, Keller doesn’t cite research, he just dribbles out invective, and names a bunch of other well-known naysayers. It’s good link bait, but its more like rock throwing than well reasoned concerns.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s