Social Media: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I would like to call Chenjerai Kumanyika my friend and colleague, but when I shared his excellent open letter to Dabo Swinney with my students, I stumbled over exactly how to describe our connection, which is entirely through Facebook and Twitter.

In fact, a significant amount of my professional and personal connections are now virtual. I have met Diane Ravitch and Paul Gorski in person once each, but my contact with them remains an electronic venture.

I would be hard pressed to list all the people I count as friends and professional colleagues who I have never met in person.

And just this morning, I shared an article with a former student, current friend who asked how I found so many good articles—to which I replied, social media.

My mornings are filled, in fact, with my Twitter and Facebook feeds—treasures of commentary and research that fuel my teaching and writing in ways that I could never accomplish on my own.

The incredible “good” of social media is that it is my daily education among the smartest and most diverse teachers possible. As much as I love and value my formal education and all my teachers and professors in the real world, it pales to my virtual daily education.

But, of course, there is the “bad”—and the “ugly.”

That often is blurred, but it certainly is a range.

When I post a blog or comment on social media, I often receive, even from “good” people, smart people, responses that reveal how social media lends itself to careless and lazy conversations.

People respond without reading the posts, or if they do read, their responses are about what they want to say, not what the post is about.

People respond to their assumptions about me—and, again, not to the content of the post.

Often, people responding assume that since I teach at a selective liberal arts college, my expertise or voice is anchored in that privilege—only.

My 18 years as a high school English teacher and coach—responding to 4000 essays and an additional 6000 journals per year—rendered invisible. My working class background, my redneck past, also invisible.

The really “ugly” comes from those who project—casting their own weaknesses and biases onto my work, and me. It is here that there is no dialogue, there is no hope of anyone learning anything.

The good, the bad, and the ugly of social media may be the inevitable given of the media—and I think on balance I am willing to tolerate that range.

Social media is very accessible, and very fast, as a way to interact with people, research, commentary, and information.

I suppose we cannot be angry that responses are equally fast, and thus, sloppy, careless, and just plain lazy as well as mean and belligerent.

It may benefit us all to slow down, and also step back, as we navigate the virtual world. Because even the virtual world cannot assuage the dangers of “assume”—making an ass out of you and me.

2 comments

  1. xiousgeonz

    Yes! I, too, am frustrated when I’m trying to convey important parts of my essence with a few words. If you were in my little office, you’d at least see my stuff that reflects it!

  2. Lloyd Lofthouse

    I’ve read more than once that 70 percent of communication is non-verbal. Social media erases the non-verbal element and what’s left – 30 percent.

    What do we lose without the non-verbal?

    You can’t have non-verbal when there is no visual face-to-face contact. The tone of their voice. The expressions that play across their face and their eyes, the eyes that are often said to be the window to our souls, unless you are a psychopath and then you have no soul. Then there is body posture that signals warmth, fear, hate, anger, pain, distrust, etc.

    That means when we interact with anyone through the virtual world, we’ve lost 70 percent of our ability to communicate with them, picking up on the non-verbal cues, and I think the danger is that the virtual world turns many of us into virtual part-time psychopaths.

    But face-to-face contact with the non-verbal element as part of socializing activates what is often missing in the virtual world: empathy. For those of us who are not psychopaths in the real world — you know the 1 percent that is Donald Trump, Bill Gates, the Waltons, the Koch brothers, Eli Broad, etc — the empathetic is activated by the non-verbal cues we get from people we are interacting with face to face.

    It changes the way we react with each other. I think that is why I’m starting to back away from going all tech. I have no tablet. I have no laptop. I have no smart phone. I don’t text. I don’t even talk on the phone more than 5 minutes a month. My only connection to the virtual world is my desktop computer with its multiple screens. When I put that desktop to sleep, I walk away from the virtual world. I don’t take it with me.

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