Guess What? Social Media Makes Us Better Friends And Workers

May 22, 2014 Ben Myers

It took a couple of decades, but journalist Clive Thompson is ready to let you have Internet access.

“If you asked me 20 years ago, ‘Is this going to be good or bad for society?’, I’d say: ‘This is going to be terrible. People are too stupid to be allowed online’,” Thompson told the Dx3 Digest.

Now that he’s studied the topic (over the course of his career), the Wired journalist and Toronto-area native has returned to spread word of his conversion as the opening keynote at the 2014 CMA National Convention on May 27.


Author Clive Thompson – PHOTO CREDIT: TOM IGOE

Thompson’s book, Smarter Than You Think, challenges the notion that technology does more harm than good to our brains and social interaction.

More harm than good?

Twitter, it could be argued, has limited its users’ abilities to has long-form thought. Thompson, however, recalls his schooling as a headline writer at the Globe & Mail in the 1990s. Twitter would have been great practice for writing a concise and witty sentence.

Writing stories about technology while working as a young freelance reporter for business publications allowed Thompson to meet people who were using the fledgling Internet for numerous purposes.

“Reality dragged me into a much more optimistic view of what [technology] was doing,” he says.

Thompson is quick to point out that technology, all the way back to the creation of written language, has endured short-sighted criticism as a familiar method of communication gives way to a new and unfamiliar one.

“When you change media structures, old forms of communicating do die,” Thompson said. “And that can be quite lamentable.”

Facebook narcissism

Today, pessimists worry about the attention-draining impact of mobile phones and the narcissistic nature of Facebook posts. In a different light, a social media-obsessed teen or adult has developed the amazing ability to have a general sense of their friends’ mental states by constantly absorbing and categorizing many inputs.

“When you change media structures, old forms of communicating do die.”

“If you were to think for a second, you could almost describe the various obsessions, thoughts, concerns and delights of people that you care about,” Thompson said. “Over a long period, they become like a pointillist picture, thousands and thousands of dots that form this portrait of what’s happening.”

When millions of people have this super-natural awareness of others, information, fads and opinions can spread quickly.

“It’s almost like a 1960s happening. When something really blows up now, everyone can know about it really quickly.”

While electronic communication now seem to popularize and disappear from use just as quickly, older forms of obsolete communication seem to retain some purpose. Though email has made letter mail archaic by comparison, letters have gained a nostalgic appreciation due largely because of this contrast.

“We’re conservative. We worry about the things we’re losing,” Thompson said. “The problem is when it becomes nostalgia.”

Rational debates and irrational anxiety

Thompson believes he knows the formula for separating rational debates about changing forms of communicating from the irrational anxiety.

“The problem is when it becomes nostalgia.”

“The exact same concerns occur over and over again,” he said. “The ones that recur strike me as probably non-sense. They’re just nostalgia. The ones that are specific nuanced appreciation for the affordances of a dying technology, those are probably valuable.”

Thompson describes himself as somewhat nostalgic for pencil-and-paper writing due to its ability to freely draw or illustrate concepts that would be more difficult or time-consuming in an electronic document.

So enjoy the speed of email and the concision of Twitter. In addition to allowing you instant, world-wide mass communication, the Internet allowed you to read this article and you might be smarter for it.

Learn more about the CMA National Convention May 27–28, 2014.


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