Jason Feifer recently wrote a great article for Fast Company Magazine called Fear and Loathing of Silicon Valley. He makes a convincing case that the current dialogue about the internet and social media making us less social, less connected or less intelligent is really just a fear of change that’s been going on since ancient Greece. Google is not making us stupid, he says; “Nor did phonographs create a ‘marked deterioration in American music,’ as composer John Philip Sousa feared in 1906. Nor did the telephone ‘break up home life and the old practice of visiting friends,’ as the Knights of Columbus warned in 1926. Nor did writing–a growing activity in the ancient world–‘create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories,’ as Plato himself hypothesized.”
It reminds me of the dialogue that just won’t die about how the younger generations are lazy and entitled. That dialogue has been going on since ancient Greece too, and yet people talk about it as if it were a new and dangerous trend. Here’s Socrates in 400 BC: “Children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.” The contemporary version of this claptrap is that our younger generations are using technology and social media in ways that decrease their communication and relationship skills because they are too lazy to do things the old way, as if the old way must be better just because it’s the old way. This is yet another romantic distortion of history.
What is happening is that we are changing the way our brains process information, the way we prioritize things, the way we value activities. Rather than getting paranoid about this, we should be embracing the possibilities and thinking critically about the risks. As Feifer says, “…here’s a narrative Silicon Valley might try to run with: Our brains changed to meet the challenge of driving cars. They changed so we could dance to recorded music. Now we are witnessing more change, and our brains will change again. Yes, change can be scary. But it’s what we’re built for.”