Cyberclinic: Social media is evil? I’m sorry, but get a (real) life

The invention of the telephone probably prompted great thinkers of the day to ponder the negative consequences it might have on society. "Now, before we all get excited about this, let's just hang on a minute," they might have written - but no one paid much attention. It's been fifteen years since mobile phone use started becoming widespread, and the vast majority of nay-sayers have, begrudgingly or otherwise, forked out for one. Social media, however, is coming in for a more sustained kicking – and that's hardly surprising, as it represents such a radical change in the way we communicate: a new syntax, a new etiquette and a whole new capacity for misunderstanding. Pope Benedict (above) this week issued a statement entitled "Truth, proclamation and authenticity of life in the digital age," in which he advises against enclosing ourselves in a parallel virtual existence. Now, to be honest, if the Pope warns of the dangers of something my natural instinct is to rush to sign up to it, but there are normal people (ie, people who have had experience of social media and who aren't 83 years old, celibate and clad in papal vestments) who are issuing similar warnings.

A book entitled Alone Together by MIT professor Sherry Turkle is published over here in a few weeks time, and its strongly worded attack on social media has already caused quite a fuss in the USA. She refers to a "form of modern madness," and in an interview witheringly referred to funerals she has attended during which people dare to check their mobile phones for incoming messages. It must be tricky to land effective punches on an activity that's embraced by hundreds of millions of people and growing fast, but her cause is supported by many who believe that social media is making us more anti-social.

They point to cases such as the suicide in Brighton of Simone Back, who stated her intention to take her life on Facebook, but whose "friends" allegedly preferred to bicker amongst themselves rather than raise the alarm. They claim that online exchanges actively usurp real-life communication; one blog comment I read even suggests that "young people... limit their friends to those with whom they have a formal, digital connection." Strong charges, undoubtedly.

But such high-handed, patronising drivel. Sure, there are things about our new social arena that are bad. Its control by a small number of corporate entities, for one. "Slacktivism" is very real; our lazy clicking of a "Like" button, the signing of an online petition or changing the colour of an avatar will never replace getting off the sofa and doing something to help. I'm aware that social media can provoke feelings of anxiety in those who feel that they aren't "good at it" – ie, they don't collect friends or follow requests, post endless streams of weblinks or embrace the compelling world of barns and ploughs in Farmville. But I don't see society following an inevitable path to hell in some kind of digital handcart. I challenge anyone to recall some golden age when we always laughed and joked with strangers on a bus. We didn't. We generally sat in silence, and didn't blame anyone for it. Today, we sit in silence while exchanging messages with friends instead.

Of course people behave badly online, but they behave badly offline, too. We can be fallible, annoying, even brutal; the difference today is that academics can observe it on the internet, and then state that society is definitely becoming "less human" in an attempt to shift some books. Facebook acquaintances may not rush to someone's aid when they express distress online, but they might be equally likely to walk past someone crying on a street corner. There are people who immerse themselves in alternate realities in their bedrooms to an unhealthy degree, but prior to World Of Warcraft they may have immersed themselves in another solitary activity instead. Go into town on a Friday night; young people are not "limiting their friends to whom they have a formal, digital connection," they're drinking, flirting, arguing, laughing, having sex, just as they always did. Twitter and Facebook may appear as disjointed streams of rapid-fire information, but real connections are formed, friends are made and lost, issues are debated, love is blossoming. Social media is such an huge, complex, ever-morphing entity, and it doesn't deserve to be dismissed and damned out of hand – either by professors, or pontificating pontiffs.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    IT Project Manager (technical, applications, infrastructure)

    £55000 - £60000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: IT Proj...

    SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's Stortford / Stansted

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's ...

    IT Portfolio Analyst - Prince2

    £45000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client, a glob...

    Project Co-ordinator - Birmingham - Permanant

    £20000 - £25000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week