They’re not social networks. They’re tribal networks.
The advent of social networks began, as their name implies, as a great big hug among friends. Announce baptisms, birthdays, betrothals, graduations, and promotions! Pass along gift ideas! Share all that lovely bonhomie with all your pals everywhere!
Yet none of us live in a purely friendly, social collective. We all know — and are probably related to — perfect idiots whose understanding and intelligence is and has been forever suspect. Those folks who account for eyerolls at holiday gatherings when they say something found to be accountably, obviously, and refutably stupid with a basic Google search. You know, people who don’t read. People who rely on Facebook for news. People who watch and listen to one network to tell them what’s going on in the world. Forgivable offences would they not affect the future of our democracy.
Of course, calling social networks “social” grants them a kindness that they don’t deserve. There’s nothing social, a term that implies conviviality and friendship, about these networks. They are, as time has shown, nothing more than gossip mongering among like-minded lovers and haters of whatever we love and hate. The social sharing we seek is invariably subject to the heartfelt cares of Aunt Martha who thinks we need to know about the Second Coming, Donald Trump’s twitter feed, and the easily-refuted fictions barked by Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News. Martha means well but her sources are a bit suspect.
Imagine a network absolutely free of political discourse. An awful place to be sure, but one that doesn’t ask us to parade our politics or religion or sexuality for whatever reason people want to parade such things. It seems that the Internet has allowed us to return to our basest of instincts — to believe without facts, to accept without caution, to herd without thought, and to run off the cliff to our perdition and embrace the unwitting yet gleeful approach to the bottom of our worst selves.
(I know this expression too well and recognize that its only saving grace for me is its gut-wrenching hurrah for an unhappy baseball team in Cleveland whose fans have waited since 1948 for a World Series win. What can I say? It’s October and my Tribe is, as ever, in mourning.)
©2018 John Hofmeister. All rights reserved.
When I'm not writing for clients, I write about things that interest me.