Well, maybe not exactly. Perhaps it’s more like brain candy, so attractively sweet but rotting the organ from the inside out. There are about twenty different articles written a month that explain all this (by journalists hopelessly addicted to social media, no less), and the Atlantic’s thrown up another one recently. The author focuses on the concept of “flow”, which is the seductive and easy movement of the brain as it’s towed through ideas and images without any real mental engagement. Television has long been at it, but it was only an opener to the grand show of social media’s flashy vacuity.
The politics of flow likely will continue to redefine political discourse in our country. Flow makes video games and social-media sites more engaging, but the phenomenon might already have refashioned political discourse and permanently changed the institutions that depend on reasoned debate. And yet, flow’s engagement is so gratifying for so many, it’s difficult to let it go. Even if the public decided that the civic costs of social media outweigh the private pleasures, it might be too late, and too hard, to turn back.
I was amused by the author’s naif closing line, however:
If [flow] triumphs, the best we can hope for is a new breed of media-savvy AOCs with good ideas—and a sensitivity to the cost of expressing them in social-media form.
Ah, yes! That is precisely what we need—a new generation of ambitious politicians expertly skilled in using subconsciously-manipulative tech platforms for their own policy ends. Is that really the best we can hope for? If so, our imaginations are extraordinarily impoverished.