“The way in which people frantically communicate online via social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook can be seen as a modern form of madness,”Â claims MIT professorÂ Sherry Turkle, whose new book, “Alone Together” has just been published.
Once a booster for the personal freedom unleashed by the Internet, Turkle is not nearly as optimistic these days. In her new book she laments that the quality of our communication has been degraded by technology. Status updates and 140 character tweets have replaced thoughtful writing. Emoticons have replaced emotions. The constant flow of messages makes it nearly impossible to reflect. While you can argue about the benefits of social media, there's no doubt that being connected 24/7 has consequences that we're just beginning to understand.
During a recent interview on NPR, Turkle told a particularly telling tale. Before beginning an interview with a student, she asked him toÂ turn off his smartphone. An hour later when he turned it on, he had over 100 messages. In apparent dismay, he asked her rhetorically when he would be able to just disconnect.
She went on to talk about how in some high schools,Â students' social standings are based on how often they update their Facebook profiles, what they tweet and similar factors. The pressure to keep up is unrelenting.Â Unlike in the past, when youthful indiscretions were forgotten, everything posted online is there forever. Who wants to be judged by his actions as a teenager? It's a terrible burden for students to bear.
In an unrelated story, college admissions officers admit that they view and evaluate an applicant's Facebook page. How much weight they place on it or what they look for isn't clear. Do they make judgments based on an applicant'sÂ circle of friends, picturesÂ posted, musical tastes, political leanings?
It's unclear, but the implication is that kids may have to learn to craft their images at an early age, learning to only post information that has strategic value.Â We already know that employers review social media sites when hiring job candidates. Think about this: If you openly support the recent labor protests, how will a potential employer view that?
The easy, instant communication enabled by social media isn't going away. Is this new technology just the latest bogeyman, blamed like television once was, for social disruption, or is it a really a descent into madness?