Sunday, October 6, 2013

Someone in a "high-IQ group" on FB posted that Caltech is now the world’s top uni or something, and their comment was “Sorry Oxford.” I thought this was ironic and sad at the same time. It really does seem like the environment of sites like Facebook encourages only the basest levels of thinking and interacting.

Wittgenstein wrote in relatively bite-sized chunks. Does this somehow confer analogical legitimacy on media like Twitter, qua the actual quality of what is produced there? I don’t think so. I don’t think W would have tweeted the Tractatus were he alive today. Not if he wanted people to actually read it and think about it.

The problem with the form of thinking and interaction into which social media have gelled is caused by at least these two main issues: that we are influenced by the mode of the surrounding “conversation;” and that the sites encourage quantity over quality.

To expound on the first: the more users--even intelligent ones--see playground-level of interaction going on the more it is normalized for them. It may seem off-putting at first, but if they see enough of it, it becomes not only a temptation but a live option. Thoughtfulness and restraint get edged out the door.

As to the second: the signal-to-noise ratio creates a kind of internal pressure to find something good in the trash pile. You skim through everything hoping to find that one gem of an idea that makes it worth your time to read through all this. Thoughtful ideas are more likely to be found in larger chunks of text. However, over time you get burned by too many long-winded posts that go nowhere and are poorly argued. You start to skip over those too. This creates the feeling for yourself that nobody reads the longer comments and that FB just isn’t the place for them. For most people, that means the more complex thoughts will never get written, since there is nowhere online but AOL-I-mean-Facebook.