Don't Read Andrew Keen's Book - You'll Harm His Identity
from the or-'zuck-it-up'-if-you-prefer dept
To promote his new pop-Luddite book Digital Vertigo—named, I assume, for the slight feeling of dizziness that signals the onset of old age—Andrew Keen has written an opinion column for CNN about the disastrous consequences of social media for the human condition. Having spent a day to process his words, I'm left with one inescapable conclusion: Keen needs to take a broader view of history. I call this "inescapable" because it holds true whether or not you agree with him. If you reject his premise that them kids aint right, then you probably think he needs to look at all the many technological and societal revolutions throughout the millennia and the shortsighted people who have railed against them, only to be proven wrong. But what if you agree with that premise, and like Keen, you fear that Facebook will "Zuck up" the species, or at least take it sweetly in the hayloft then sell the videos to Zynga?
Then I think you would still have to conclude that he lacks perspective, because he simply doesn't go far enough. His main concern, which he backs up with the
quacking noises words of Techdirt's good friend Sherry Turkle, is that social media is causing people to build their identities based on what people think of them rather than magically conjuring up an identity from within—and that this is a tragedy for humanity:
But this shift to a Facebook world of incessant "friending," Professor Turkle correctly warns us, is a "seductive fantasy" which is weakening us both as individuals and as a society. The problem, she explains, is that a "capacity for solitude is what nurtures great relationships." But in today's always-on social media world, our solitude has been replaced by incessant online updates, which both weaken our sense of self and our ability to create genuine friendships.
What it means, of course, is that we are creating a world in which our sense of identity, of who we actually are, is defined by what others think of us. Social media's ubiquity means that we are losing that most precious of human things -- our sense of self . Our devices are always on; our "Timeline" (Facebook's product which greedily attempts to capture our entire life narrative) is there for everyone to see; we are living in public on a radically transparent global network that, by 2020, will be fed by 50 billion intelligent devices carried by the majority of people on the planet.
This is disappointingly short-sighted. How could Keen reach this conclusion without noticing that the telephone also created more intercommunication and immediacy within communities, and thus should be rejected as well? Or that earlier still, international postage did us a great disservice by inundating our identities with annoying perspectives from around the world? If I am to follow someone backwards into this brave old world of isolation, I want a true leader who knows how to go big or go home (and "home" should be like, a cave, or something). In fact, I can't think of a single instant in the history of human civilization where members of a community have not largely defined their identity and value based on the standards and demands of that community. I'm beginning to suspect that farming may be to blame—or maybe cave painting? Frankly I'm not sure why we spend so much time coming up with words to express our thoughts and get feedback from others, violating the sanctity of our identities by tempering them with a variety of viewpoints, when all we really need are hunting commands. So why isn't Keen championing that cause?
Or maybe it's not history Keen is lacking—maybe it's philosophy. After all, there's a simple solution to his problem: solipsism. Wasn't it Descartes' first principle that the self is the only thing one can be sure exists? And someone who hates progress so much should never need more than one principle. If we just accept that nobody else is real, then it won't bother us when they tweet photos of their breakfast anymore. Ah, but I guess then we wouldn't get the other benefits Keen mentions:
But remember, the less we publicly announce about ourselves, the more mysterious and thus the more interesting our private selves become.
Wait, now I'm confused. I thought the whole idea was to be less narcissistic, and not base our identities on the opinions of others. That sure sounds like a high-school-level attempt to cultivate a public identity to me, but since I've now decided that neither Keen nor anyone reading this actually exists, I'll let it pass and focus on building my self-esteem by beating myself at Words With Friends, which is way more fun when you renounce your friends. Still, I expect more from figments of my imagination, and I hope Keen will realize that he's only scratched the surface of the vile threat to our humanity that "community" represents.