Society under threat from social media and computers? Not buying it.

Another exercise is looking at dots. First, a few bold assertions:

I do not believe that social media or access to computers and the Internet by children is destroying society. Why?

Less than half of the world’s population has ever been online. Contrast that to the smaller proportions that have no access to radio or television (about 80 percent of households worldwide have access to a television).

I believe that society changed most dramatically, worldwide, with the discovery of how to transmit sound, so that people could hear clearly what was going on elsewhere without moving from where they were. The invention of the radio seems to have brought the world to within nearly every person’s fingertips, or ears, at the turn of a dial or the pressing of a button. Now, on February 13 each year, UNESCO celebrates Radio Day. Radio is the most widespread communication medium. Just look at the summary statistics for 2013, some of which are highlighted in this image.

Beyond radio, the invention that radically changed how people perceived the world and got most information, was the enabling of visual images to be transmitted broadly and quickly. So, the camera lay at the foundation of that, despite people being able to draw and share images from long before. The camera meant life anywhere could be seen anywhere else, in a short period of time, and it was a more accurate depiction than through a drawing or painting–without getting into the interpretation that any photographer could do. From the camera sprang films (documentary or fictional) and from that television.

Putting sound and images together was a profound invention. Adding mobility to those possibilities is really what computers and later mobile devices have developed. Society was already well into changes in how it interacted long before the notions that inlay social media came into play.

The true human memory is weak and easily manipulated. If you disagree, read about how memories are constructed.

A classic example of this is represented by what we may regard as nostalgia. Christmas is a good time to observe that in action. I wont say much but suggest you listen carefully to how people view past Christmas events. I wager that they will look back at most of them with fondness, including how people used to behave differently. For example, now looking at young people playing on electronic devices and suggesting that in the past people talked and interacted more. Utter rubbish!

My Christmases are not definitive so that is as good a random sample as any, I’d argue. But, I recall (since the early 1960s) people seeking to regain some rest after a long period of work or school since the summer break/holidays. They mostly got up late and broke fast in whatever way they could, when they were ready; balance and nutrition were not important. Those who wanted exercise took it, walking alone or with pets or other people. People read, books, magazines, newspapers, articles. People played, alone or in groups, some games requiring a lot of interaction (like football or cards), others little or none (such as crosswords or jigsaws–I regard those as playful activities). Phones rang, sometimes the calls took up many minutes, sometimes they were brief, often they were not about anything much other than a quick check by someone who could not be with the group on how things were going, including details of their plans to join. Music played on machines (including radios), and could be one person’s choice (often a parent, or at least an adult) or some sort of group taste (eg carols). As children grew, they exerted their influences and might have dominated mostly or given a bigger say in the choice. If circumstances allowed, those whose tastes did not suit the group, were found away from others enjoying their sounds (in the days before headphones, this could be far from others or at low volumes). Coming together tended to be for major meals (lunch or dinner). Conversation was often most animated around the dining table. The rest of the time, conversation happened around activities, often food preparation or when decisions were to be made about what the group might do.

Fundamentally, I’ve not seen any of that change, with the exception that we can share our tastes with others more easily than ever before. In the past, we might have needed to take a physical sound or image file from place to place (exchanging originals or copies physically). Now, that can mainly be done electronically, though not necessarily. Now, everyone can listen to or watch their choices without others having to be subjected to them. That’s the element of choice at the extreme for all things.

But, some want us to think that something sinister is going on with the latest turn of the technological needle. Like modern concerns about bullying, I’ve yet to see recently things as devastating as what I witnessed or learned about as a child. Some of the tools or means are different, but the motivations, perpetrators and victims are all generally familiar.

I’ll accept that the current technologies allow things to be shared much faster and therefore with less chance to verify than before. But, in the past, with things moving slower, those who chose not to, or were unable to, discern were in the same place as now. People have always had reasons to fabricate information. Ignorance has long been an excellent control tool.

Maybe, each generation wants to feel that it has moved on from those of the past, and that may seem easier than to accept that things have continued rather than changed.