If Neal Gabler is right about social media, the words in this article wouldn’t exist.
After all, it was Twitter where I discovered “The Zuckerberg Revolution,” his overwrought essay in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times.
So how’s that for irony: If it weren’t for social media, paidContent wouldn’t be devoting serious thought to his article on how social media is destroying serious thought.
Don’t think of that sentiment as just a joke; it cuts to the heart of what is so wrongheaded about the media historian’s contention that the more we use Facebook, Twitter and SMS, “the less likely we are to have the habit of mind or the means of expressing ourselves in interesting and complex ways.”
By dwelling on the sheer volume and brevity (140 characters–gasp!) of modern messaging, Gabler misunderstands that as the totality of communication. Social media is not the destination that replaces serious discourse; it’s the very vehicle that brings people to deeper information experiences, including blogs, message boards and yes, misguided LAT op-eds.
What Gabler doesn’t get is that new media is not a zero-sum game; time spent Twittering doesn’t necessarily replace quality reading. The more communication that takes place–an increase facilitated in part by the pithiness of 140-character blips–the more opportunities there are to bring people and/or content together for the kind of meaningful exchanges they wouldn’t otherwise have.
You would think an essay so focused on protecting the integrity of communications wouldn’t engage in the kind of trivialization that Gabler attributes to social media. But then you can’t toss off cute but meaningless slogans like, “We are texting ourselves to death.” Or fixate on Mark Zuckerberg as the poster boy for Everything That Is Wrong With Contemporary Media. Never mind that Facebook’s recent announcement on its intent to innovate e-mail is hardly the first to tread that territory (where are you now, Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Wave?). Never mind that there’s something sloppily reductive about the way he sets up Johann Gutenberg and Zuckerberg as polar opposites when publishing and messaging are such distinctly different modes.
Screaming “fire” on a crowded internet is just the latest example of the kind of reflexive hysteria that seems to attend every innovation in media. But throwing social media under the bus in this context seems all the more nutty given it’s the very tool that will maximize exposure for the essay. Maybe not retweeting or posting Gabler’s words in Facebook status updates is the best way to help him realize what he doesn’t understand.