Most anything that is popular, or ubiquitous, is bound to have a dark side. This is the way of the world, manifest in the madness of crowds.
Whatever the mania, you can be certain that credentialed egg-heads, professional do-gooders, and compulsive busy-bodies will claim access should be curtailed, controlled or even cut off, “for the children.”
A generation ago, it was television. Today, the culprits are the Internet, and social media in particular.
Nevertheless, social media are essential to young people today, just as television was a necessary evil for those of us who came before.
In 1961, in his first address as President John F. Kennedy’s Chairman of the Federal Communications Chairman, Newton Minnow famously referred to television as a “vast wasteland.” Indisputably, the same can be said about much of the Internet.
Recent news stories of “cyber-bullying,” sometimes with tragic consequences, are reminders of the cruelty with which humanity infects most any creation, no matter how miraculous. Likewise, the career-threatening conduct of some young people online is worthy of concern.
The Internet unbridles society’s id, with results relatable to the axiom that it is unwise to discuss politics or religion in polite company. To wit, people take all their frustrations from the entirety of their lives and try to jam them, camel-like, though the eyes of those needles. This is the principle on display in most any Internet comment thread that runs more than a couple-dozen entries.
This informs the decision taken by some to divorce themselves from the entire enterprise.
Doubtless, you have seen some friend post a manifesto as to why they are taking leave of social media, written as though they were Washington bidding farewell to his troops. These pledges rarely last and are a fairly nascent happening, much like the medium itself.
The forswearing of TV, however, has a long and irksome history.
Something about not having a television makes people decide they are experts on everything. For instance, some of the harshest opprobrium I have heard regarding, say, Fox News, has come from people who simultaneously boast they do not own a TV.
That sort of illogic speaks for itself, and if adults wish to strike the supercilious pose of know-it-all hippies, so be it. But children deserve better.
Parents who impose television-free regimes presumably imagine their liberated offspring prancing, fawn-like, across some bucolic meadow, perhaps playing the pan-flute, pausing only to recite lengthy passages of Dickens by heart.
Conceding that “data” is not the plural of anecdote, I cannot help but reflect on my own contemporaries for whom television was prohibited, or severely restricted.
As adults, I have found them to be socially stunted, frustrated by their inability to converse fluently in the language of their generation.
For example, if you were born in the 1970s and require Mr. Carlson’s “I thought turkeys could fly” subterfuge to be explained to you, then you find yourself at a disadvantage. Likewise, if you cannot identify the genesis of “jumping the shark,” you are at a loss. One can only imagine how baffling an episode of Family Guy must be to such people.
This is not to aver, retroactively, that appreciation of the Seth MacFarlane canon or the scripted witticisms of Gordon Jump would be sufficient reason to permit increased television viewing (although that case could be made). Rather, it is to suggest that denying access to the common communications of one’s day, however well-intentioned, limits a person’s capacity to relate to his or her peers.
To modern youth, therefore, my unsolicited advice is to continue to embrace social media, or at least participate, such that you are somewhat literate in its argot and aware of its phenomena. Social media are where today’s causes are championed, its jokes are told, its hoaxes perpetrated and revealed, and its stories played out.
Most of it is perfectly idiotic, but it’s what’s happening. You don’t have to join causes, sign petitions, or even approve – but you ought to know.
In this way, as you grow old together, you will be able to relate more fully, sharing points of reference and speaking a common tongue.
Such commonality can smooth all manner of relationships, including and especially when affection or high regard are otherwise absent. In my own case, I have a number of friendships based largely on shared appreciation of The Simpsons. We freely admit that we do not much care for one another’s personalities but, in a vast and changing world, knowing the proper response to “Who makes Steve Guttenberg a star?” is like a secret handshake.
For older people, social media can be helpful in promoting a business, preserving long-distance friendships, or simply forestalling the inevitable day when we are pronounced “out of touch.” For today’s youth, however, social media are not only useful, but necessary.
My generation is just past the point where we are required to partake of “The Twitter,” in Betty White’s parlance. But it’s different for us, we already know turkeys can’t fly.
Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org