I am not on the bleeding edge of adopting technology. Nor am I on the leading edge, or the trailing edge. I am generally dragged along five years or so after the entire rest of the world is using the device/system/service in question. Yes, I am out of the loop. Yes, when I do have to learn to use $THING$ my learning curve is so steep as to be vertical. On the other hand . . . On the other hand . . .
My home chapter of a patriotic organization voted to disband. There are no longer enough of us to carry on with our core mission, and most of those who remain are not in good health. Our little group is not alone, alas, in this, as fraternal orders and charitable groups around the country have a similar problem. As I was helping clean up following the meeting, I voiced a thought I’d had recently: If Twitter (TM) and Facebook (TM) and SnapChat (TM) suddenly disappeared, Western Civilization might be better off. The gent who was helping me sort of sighed and agreed.
It was a form of short hand. Had changes in generational interests and the pleasures of gaming, social media, and other things not proved so attractive, we might well have more, younger people who are interested in doing more for civic and social engagement than joining a Twitter campaign or liking a Facebook post about helping the poor and downtrodden. Or who joined groups like Rotary, Lions, Elks, the Masonic Order, Oddfellows, CAP, CAF, and a host of other local clubs and associations. Now, granted, a lot of younger people lack both the time and the financial ability (real or perceived) to participate in this kind of thing. The Long Recession is dragging a lot down along with the obvious economy. But the iSociety is so tempting and so easy to lean on, far more so than the real-world committment to civic and other organizations.
I know. Most of my own social life is on-line. Why? It lets me be introverted. I don’t have to make eye contact and talk to real, live people. It lets me think about what I am going to say and how, to back up, to hit delete (sometimes), to consider my words and reactions before I respond. Real life takes a great deal more effort. Teaching is a two-way street, but the reverse flow of traffic is rather lighter than a true social interaction.
Social media doesn’t use the same muscles as getting involved for the long haul with a project or organization. It doesn’t require weekly rehearsals (and nightly the week of the concert). it doesn’t require calling or visiting businesses to ask for donations. You don’t have to spend ten hours standing on hot asphalt directing airplanes or selling tee-shirts and patches or answering the same question for the twentieth time and smiling and acting excited and friendly. I know good things have come out of social media, like the Icebucket Challenge and other fund-raisers or organizing assistance and passing on information in crises. The Cajun Navy is a magnificent example of how to use things for the good. Or when Craigslist set up a I’m-looking-for and I’m-here-where-are-you site after a couple major disasters. But I do not think that overrides the larger shift in society.
Western civilization is built on a lot of things. Common cultural inheritance, common moral standards (even when honored in the breach), common belief in the rule of law over the rule of men. All of those require interacting with other people, live people. Archivists and hermits can preserve things but not make them bloom. And I do not think, when we look back in 20-50 years, social media will have encouraged the values and best in Western Civ and civil society.
So yes, I do not participate in social media, no accounts, I can go for weeks without checking my e-mail (and I enjoy it) or commenting on blogs and news sites. I do need to get out more, to do more than work through my place of worship and my association’s (now former) local chapter. And I need to push, pull, pester, encourage younger people to look up from the electronic world and participate in our community. # will not clean up the park. “Like” won’t rebuild Louisiana, or southern Texas, or anywhere else that people need help for the long haul.