Not So Different After All

Ronson describes in his book, So You’ve Been Publically Shamed, the downfalls of social media. Public shaming has seen a rise in recent times. In my opinion, Ronson takes the stance that social media has its positives but, at the same time, extreme negatives. Carr also views social media in a negative light in his book, The Shallows.  Ronson and Carr have many opposing ideas, but do show similarities in the fact that they both recognize the downfalls of social media.

Ronson and Carr agree on the fact that social media and technology are a powerful tool. Carr discusses in his book that with technology came a rewiring of our brains and loss of compassion. While I don’t think Ronson would agree with that technology rewired our brains, Ronson does agree that there is a lack of compassion on social media: “During the months that followed, it became routine. Everyday people, some with young children, were getting annihilated for tweeting some badly worded joke to their hundred or so followers”(Ronson 67). We have become desensitized to the vicious public shaming occurring on a daily basis. Ronson saw with his own eyes how quickly someone could be taken down by everyday people on social media, and the effect it has on that person. Social media can be too powerful. Carr shares that belief that social media is dangerous in many different ways. On the other hand, a major difference between Ronson and Carr is that Carr addresses technology more and how technological advances are causing this decrease in empathy. Ronson seems to believe that it has always been there.

Another major different between Ronson and Carr is that Carr believes technology is to blame for our problems with social media. I think that Carr is incorrect in this conclusion, and my thinking much closer aligns with boyd and Ronson. Boyd refutes Carr’s claims eloquently in her book, It’s Complicated. She and Ronson believe that people are to blame for our problems with social media rather than technology: “Blaming technology or assuming that conflict will disappear if technology usage is minimized is naïve”(boyd 152). Ronson shares similar thinking because he relates current public shaming to the public punishment of the past. Social media was not around during the times of public punishment, so people are the reason for these actions; not technology. Boyd and Ronson, on the surface, seem to be the most similar. However, I believe Ronson, boyd, and Carr all share a similar sense of cynicism toward human nature and society.


A Letter to Carr

Dear Mr. Carr,

Hello from the future! Throughout the past two weeks, I have had the pleasure of reading your work and I must say, you sir, are an excellent writer. Although at times, I felt as if your arguments were repetitive, I found myself learning something new about technology in every chapter I read. Your extensive research on the history of technologies and their impact on our brains, not only impressed me, but sparked an intrigue to read more. I found myself reflecting on my own technology usage and whether the losses in concentration and memory were present in myself. During my reflection, I came to the same conclusion that you argued about various times in your book: the internet and technology changes the way I think and do things.

There is, however, one point that I would like to discuss with you. In Chapter 10, A Thing Like Me, something you said stood out to me.

“the more distracted we become, the less able we are to experience the subtlest, most distinctively human forms of empathy, compassion, and other emotions.”

At first, when reading this quote, I immediately thought of a term I learned in my Communications class called the bystander effect. The bystander effect is the tendency for individuals to be less likely to help another person in need when other bystanders are present, or believed to be present, as compared to when they are alone. When walking between classes today I noticed how everyone seemed to be on their phones, unbothered by the obstacles or people in front of them. I wondered what would happen if I suddenly dropped to the ground while walking.

Credit: Latticework of Mental Models: The Bystander Effect

Would anyone look up from their phone to offer me help? Or would they be so distracted by the screen in their hands, that they simply walk by, expecting someone else to step in? While wondering these questions, it is then that I come to agree with your statement that our compassion and empathy may become void with the constant interaction of technology.

But what if our human qualities did not diminish with the use of the internet? What if they actually increased? Because you are stuck in the year 2010, you are not yet aware of the multiple current issues happening in our society today. Some examples actually show that through technology our compassion and empathy for others has expanded. Recently, the Black Lives Matter movement has taken over our media news. During one of the many African-American shootings, one woman actually live streamed the incident. Through her smart phone camera, we were able to witness the tragic event and how it unfolded. This is not the first time that a shooting has been filmed either. I have watched some of these heartbreaking videos, and because of them, my empathy for these victims only grew. My interaction to this technology did not weaken my emotions, it strengthened them.

Even while scrolling through my timeline on Facebook, I become more aware of the multitudes of social and global issues happening in our society. I recently watched a video of the Kiss Cam that took place at the Pro Bowl. While scanning the crowds, the camera stopped on a man and woman couple. To my surprise, the couple looked at each other and then the man turned to another man sitting next to him and kissed him instead. The video continues, highlighting the different forms of love, whether that be between people of the same gender, different religions, or different races. Videos and articles such as these, allow people to take away a message. After watching the video, I felt compassion for those whose love is not seen as the “normal” or “correct” one. Not only did I feel sympathy for these people, but I immediately wanted to alleviate the pain and discrimination that those couples go through.

So yes Mr. Carr, you were right. I am extremely distracted by my technologies, but I have come to realize that although my distraction may sometimes cut me off from the real world, that doesn’t mean that the real world is cut off from me.