To start: let me say that the following was written for a class I am currently enrolled. What follows is my attempt at an analyis of the essay written by Andrew Keen .
In the shadows of the recent Facebook initial public offering, and the dismal performance of the stock since that day, much has been written about Facebook and whether the company can live up to the expectation of investors. Is Facebook just another fad, similar to MySpace of the mid 2000s? Does Facebook have the staying power to outlive the inevitable tech-bubble burst that forecasters are predicting? Andrew Keen presents an interesting, albeit short-sighted opinion piece of how the advent of Facebook has corrupted our sense of being human. The solution he presents is to forego these applications and utilities and instead interact on a one-to-one basis.
Digital narcissism, the infatuation with one’s on-line social presence, came to light with the advent of social media. The use of social media (sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Four Square, etc.), to tell our life story through posts, tweets, check-ins, and photo sharing has enabled people to stay connected and in some severe cases overly connected. Numerous examples can be cited to show the dangers of overuse of social media; however, Andrew Keen established in his opinion piece “Facebook threatens to 'Zuck up' the human race” he believes the solution for digital narcissism is to withdrawal from these networks in order to keep our humanity. Keen correctly points out in today’s digital society people are obsessed with the constant updates of peers, friends, and family. As well, the consumption of this information takes time away from real-world interactions. “What it means, of course, is that we are creating a world in which our sense of identity, of who we actually are, is defined by what others think of us. Social media's ubiquity means that we are losing that most precious of human things -- our sense of self”
What Keen fails to realize in his article is the use of social media as an access point to the world is a new concept, much like the home computer. Much like printing during its’ infancy, printers felt obligated to give the page “many of the illuminator’s embellishments: a certain floridness, a certain ornateness of figure and arabesque on the title page and the initial letters,”
(Mumford, 2010), it was only after
the technical aspect of printing was removed from the artistic that printing
allowed for the proper medium through which knowledge could easily spread.
Sufficient time has not passed to allow for society to deem what is and what is
not acceptable regarding Facebook and social media. As with the adoption of any new technology, a
learning curve is expected; however, Keen believes that the learning curve has
already passed and society must now reform from its’ oversharing ways. Much like the Reformation period of the
church during the 1500s “The major reform movements that help to shape the
context for the Reformation shared a common concern with moral criteria” (Graff, 2010, p. 86).
Keen relates the oversharing of personal information to the addictive nature of pornography and video games “The distinguished psychologists Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan have written about an entire generation of young men who, they say, have been ‘desensitized to reality’ by online gaming and pornography. But what Zimbardo and Duncan forget to add is that much social media is no less addictive that gaming or porn,”
(Keen, 2012). Keen, in this instance, fails to analyze the
source of the information. In the
article mentioned, Zimbardo and Duncan conclude that video games and the
availability of pornography on the internet have led to “a generation of
risk-averse guys who are unable (and unwilling) to navigate the complexities
and risks inherent to real-life relationships, school and employment” (Zimbardo
& Duncan, 2012) citing numerous instances such as “Norwegian
mass murder suspect Anders Behring Breivik reported during his trial that he
prepared his mind and body for his marksman-focused shooting of 77 people by
playing "World of Warcraft" for a year and then "Call of
Duty" for 16 hours a day,” (Zimbardo & Duncan, 2012). As well as “Seungseob Lee, a South Korean
man, went into cardiac arrest after playing ‘StarCraft’ for nearly 50
continuous hours,” (Zimbardo & Duncan, 2012). Each instance cited by the articles
attributes the extreme case as normal, when this is far from the truth. While there may be some credence within the
article as to the addictive properties of gaming and pornography, the context
of which is skewed with these cases to apply shock value without providing
enough supportive information, the article also fails to articulate what
solutions are available, if they even exist .
While Keen argues that this revolution of social media and social interaction through cyber-space is corrupting what it means to be human; he fails to account for the numerous connections maintained among families and friends separated by geographic distances. And completely overlooks the new connections made through shared interests, much like the early years of the printing press and its’ effect on communal solidarity, by allowing an individual to become informed on topics and causes outside the scope of everyday life. “Even while communal solidarity was diminished, vicarious participation in more distant events was also enhanced; while local ties were loosened, links to larger collective units were being forged,”
(Eisenstein, 2010, p. 84). It is not our need to feel reassured through
our constant updates; however, it is our need to feel connected to a larger
group through any media available.
The mystery of the private self over the public self, “The less we publicly announce about ourselves, the more mysterious and thus the more interesting our private selves become,”
(Keen, 2012), while this
statement is true it does not alleviate the narcissism attributed to social
media. While people may be more
interesting, at least initially, to interact with the less we know about them,
this does not resolve the issue of narcissistic tendencies in today’s society;
in fact, it only strengthens them. Since those who do not share openly can
control exactly what information is known.
A smart individual could easily craft their identity in such a way as to
seem more important than in fact they truly are. Much like people who impersonate war heroes,
assuming the identity of someone who received numerous accolades for bravery
and valor, for a war in which they actually did not participate. This is only
an extreme example of how providing little information in a digital world can
lead to a false impression of who a person is in reality.
Should we eliminate Facebook? For all the issues mentioned previously, and with so many users and connections available does Facebook facilitate the connectivity and social interactions we as a social species require? Yes, in part Facebook facilitates dialogue among friends, family, and colleagues. Allowing those connected to easily share new information for all to absorb and analyze. However, Keen is correct that digital interaction cannot replace the social interaction in the real-world, but enhances it.
Eisenstein, E. (2010). Aspects of the Printing Revolution. In D. Crowley, & P. Heyer, Communication in History: Technology, Culture, Society (Sixth ed., pp. 78-86). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.
Graff, H. J. (2010). Early Modern Leteracies. In D. Crowley, & P. Heyer, Communication in History: Technology, Culture, Society (Sixth ed., pp. 86-95). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.
Keen, A. (2012, May 30). Facebook threatens to ‘Zuck up’ the human race. Retrieved June 10, 2012, from CNN.com: http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/30/tech/keen-technology-facebook-privacy/index.html?hpt=hp_bn11
Mumford, L. (2010). The Invention of Printing. In D. Crowley, & P. Heyer, Communication in History: Technology, Culture, Society (Sixth ed., pp. 74-77). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.
Zimbardo, P. G., & Duncan, N. (2012, May 24). 'The Demise of Guys': How video games and porn are ruining a generation. Retrieved June 10, 2012, from CNN.com: http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/23/health/living-well/demise-of-guys/index.html