We have millions of people who are warehoused in almost a larval state in their apartments, watching tv, paying for their medical plans, and glued to this mindless opera of cultural decay that’s recited day after day in front of them. I mean, it’s horrible to imagine — and this is a creation to some degree of the world corporate state, that probably has to be addressed.
– Terence McKenna, The Internet is the Cure for TV (1994)
I know the title of this post seems strange in light of several factors. First, it’s been nearly twenty years since the dot-com bubble burst and it’s estimated that 3-4 billion people globally, or roughly 50% of the world’s population, already surf the web. Second, it’s become increasingly trendy in 2017 to highlight all the bad things about the internet, with social media typically singled out for the most intense and visceral criticism. Although I acknowledge some very real downsides of social media such as unhealthy obsession and addiction, most of the outrage we’ve seen this year has been focused on “fake news” and “Russia meddling.” In other words, most of the hysteria’s been political in nature, and would barely be registering anywhere near its current decibel level had Hillary Clinton won the election.
All of a sudden, there’s this insistence that social media is especially dangerous because it fosters the creation of echo chambers rife with tribal confirmation bias. Spaces where people with the same views simply talk to one another, and whoever’s willing to be the loudest and most aggressive at signaling to their tribe becomes the most popular. I don’t deny that this phenomenon exists, but like with anything else, you have to accept the bad with the good, and in the long-run the good far outweighs the bad.
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