Alvin Toffler died last week. Who was Alvin Toffler you may ask? He wrote a book in 1970 called Future Shock. It was one of those books that seemed pretty far-fetched at the time but has largely come true. 1970 was the year after we landed Americans on the moon, when IBM introduced the first silicon chip in one of their computers and banking came out with the ATM machine. No one carried a powerful computational device in their pockets, purses or on their wrists. But, Toffler predicted that the rate of change in technology, especially computer technology (what we today call IT) would begin to take an increasingly upsetting toll on the way humans live, interact and come to understand our world. The changes that technology introduced would themselves serve to enable and accelerate further changes, advancements some would say, and soon the pace would be too great for humans to keep up with, creating shock waves through our societies, politics, economies and cultures.
Someone posed the observation that since we have portable, pocket-sized devices that can instantly connect us with one another and with the ever growing vast repository of the world’s information and literature, we mainly use it to argue with strangers and watch videos of cats. This is not far from the mark. But, even more disturbing, we are using these information processing devices to so rapidly fragment and reassemble world culture that the unintended consequences have become devastating. The prime, but not sole example, is the world of Twitter. The Twitterverse. Think about it.
Anyone with a smart phone, tablet or computer, can instantly engage in highly limited (in terms of characters) conversations with anyone else on any topic. (This is not actually true. It appears that Twitter has algorithms and employs people who constantly monitor these tweetversations for any hint that they might contravene Twitter’s unwritten social rules and values. Free “speech”, tweets, are not really free but are censored at the command of unseen forces for unrevealed reasons.) But, within those shadowy parameters, tweet-wars rage endlessly across hyperspace. Twitter has become a time-sink, a space where one can spend significant time gossiping, reflecting back similar opinions within a close echo chamber of the like-minded, and lambast and insult those with whom you and your TwitPals disagree. Alliances form quickly, in a matter of minutes or hours, based on rumor, innuendo, lies and distortions. Few people will wait for evidence or facts but quickly pile on some unfortunate soul or event, mounting ever increasing rage, or commendation, depending on the state of your emotional being at the time, regardless of the incomplete knowledge that usually fuels these TwitWars.
These devices when used in a “social media” context bring people across the world directly back to junior high school (middle school for you too old to remember schools when they were real institutions of learning). Raging hormones. Undefined societal and intellectual roles. Malleable emotions. Dearth of intellectual reasoning tools. Weak association with or understanding of history, logic and basic scientific principles. Rumor. Lies. Cliques and clubs. It’s all there. And, by it’s nature: speed of information exchange, global reach, and limited opportunity to engage in extended rational discussion, it serves mainly as a gossip and innuendo mill, sucking your time away from actual work or fruitful discussion.
I’m working my way through Steven Pinker’s book, How the Mind Works. This takes time, thought and attention. I’ve discovered that I’ve been wasting from four to eight hours each week in the Twitterverse and the payoff has been thin. I have discovered a few gems that have led me to valuable reservoirs of thought and discussion: Dave Rubin, Gad Saad, Sam Harris, Ben Shapiro, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Stephen Crowder, Jon Haidt, Christina Hoff Summers. Even Milo. All of these people (and I apologize for those I’ve not mentioned) have worth while things to say, even though I don’t agree with all of them, are willing to engage in discussion and debate, and even, get ready for it, change their opinions when they discover reason and evidence that moves them in that direction.
As the future does shock us ever more increasingly, some things must go by the wayside. Twitter, for me, is one of them. I’ve pared my following list to a few essential thinkers and there I will stay.