Is there a “cult of social media?” Is public sharing our new “religion?” Well, Andrew Keen says this and more is true in his new book, #digitalvertigo.
In his new book he speaks extensively about how Silicon Valley and the rest of the world have all become addicted to social media (including the fact that nearly all start-ups now are social), using it to combat and put off loneliness, and that we are losing a civil culture because of it. In addition, Mr. Keen claims we are over inflating our value, and he claims “visibility is a trap.”
In his book he says, “Narcissism isn’t new, but the web is both the cause and the consequence of our contemporary love affair with our own opinions.” In his TEDx talk he asks, “Do we want to eliminate loneliness? Loneliness isn’t a bad thing, it’s an essential part of the human condition.”
Even more dramatically, in his book he says social media is “an absurd global prison where we are all forced to live in public.”
So, in other words, social media highlights narcissism, is an absurd prison, and is causing us to lose our loneliness which is an essential part of being human.
Wow. Anything else?
Personally I wonder if he’s meaning solitude, rather than loneliness – which are two considerably different things. I agree that solitude is a critical part of being human; I often go to movies by myself just to have a couple of hours alone in the dark where no one can reach me.
But while Keen is right to lambast these digital evangelists promising a new Renaissance (and he does so with verve), it is perhaps an exaggeration to suggest that a new Dark Ages could be imminent. The book suffers from the same failing as many books on the Internet: a selective use of studies and anecdotal evidence to bolster its arguments. For example, Keen cites a 2007 Brigham Young University social-media study that found that the heaviest networkers “feel less socially involved with the community around them.” But there are plenty of other academic studies that show the exact opposite – that, in fact, social-media users have richer social lives.
While all Mr. Keen brings up valid points, particularly about privacy, I feel that it’s important to remember that right now social media is just on a swing of the pendulum – and we’re not sure where, exactly where we are on that pendulum. Are we still swinging toward being MORE public sharing, or are we moving away from so much public sharing and finding a better balance?
Only time will tell. Social media is, at a stretch, only 25 years old or so – with, of course, a massive upswing in the last ten years – which is barely a blip on the history of humanity. And in many ways, Mr. Keen’s dramatic fears were played out in our history when the telephone was invented, and then radio, and then television.
What is clear, however, is that humans don’t long for loneliness, no matter how much Mr. Keen says we need it. We crave connection, and social media has given us more connections than ever before. I, for one, and so incredibly grateful for my social media friends and family.
What do you think? Is he right? On a final note; there is, of course, an incredible irony in a man that is lambasting social media as a dangerous cult in a book in which he also uses his Twitter handle as his byline. Your thoughts?