Inspired by NYU social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, Shawn, Doc and I explored the polarizing impact of social media, the breakdown of communication spurred by communication tools gone awry, and what we as technologists could do about these problems. Are there answers in user identity and authentication? How do we preserve privacy in the process? We have hope, but there is work to be done.
Haidt’s thesis at its core:
It’s been clear for quite a while now that red America and blue America are becoming like two different countries claiming the same territory, with two different versions of the Constitution, economics, and American history. But Babel is not a story about tribalism; it’s a story about the fragmentation of everything. It’s about the shattering of all that had seemed solid, the scattering of people who had been a community. It’s a metaphor for what is happening not only between red and blue, but within the left and within the right, as well as within universities, companies, professional associations, museums, and even families.“Why The Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid.” The Atlantic, 25 May 2022, www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2022/05/social-media-democracy-trust-babel/629369.
In my view, Haidt raises issues that should be addressed, and though I don’t always agree with his conclusions, his perspectives are worth a look. I question his conclusions around social media being more harmful to girls than boys, for example, and correlating statistics around girls and self-harm in recent years. Suffice it to say that I question the methodology, and I find it just as plausible that young girls are more honest about their mental health, or that the real underlying trigger is other societal harms to young women, like increasing lack of access to healthcare, or a number of other things I’d be curious to see explored.
I would also like to see a little more emphasis everywhere that constructive conversation requires equal opportunities for all voices to be heard clearly and acknowledged, which is of utmost importance and frequently missing, especially for those voices from the commonly silenced and underrepresented.
Regardless, Haidt weaves a continuous thread reiterating that we try to examine different perspectives and try to remain open to reasonable questions. These are things we humans suck at these days, and it behooves us to work harder. Or, we could just hope for that alien invasion. (You’ll have to listen to the episode for that reference. Thanks, Shawn, for always lightening the mood!)
Haidt’s articles in The Atlantic
- Yes, Social Media Really Is Undermining Democracy
- Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid
- The Dark Psychology of Social Networks