When Half Our Time Is Spent Online, We Live in a Delusional WorldA historian warns that many of us now live in bubbles where we need interact only with people who agree with us
Historian Adam Seagrave (pictured) reflects on the finding that more than half of Americans spend more than half of their waking time in “virtual worlds”: Living through electronic media, especially social media, causes us to live in entirely different worlds even from near neighbors: “The 50 percent threshold represents a tipping point that renders dialogue, deliberation, civic friendship, and compromise extraordinarily difficult in any society.”
According to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, roughly eight in ten Americans go online at least daily. Almost three in ten American adults say they are “almost constantly” online. According to a 2019 Digital Information World report, internet users in the United States spend an average of 6 hours and 31 minutes online every day. Over the course of a single year, the average U.S. internet user spends about 100 days online.
Please note that these numbers were all collected before the extreme effect of the COVID pandemic on internet use nationwide. All indicators of internet use are likely to have risen by at least 10 to 20 percent in 2020. Put these and corroborating numbers together and it is clear that we have passed the 50/50 tipping point: more than half of Americans spend more than half their waking lives in virtual internet worlds.Adam Seagrave, “The internet is changing the way all of us think and socialise” at MercatorNet
That produces the “echo chamber” effect:
These virtual internet worlds are artificial not only in terms of their dependence on man-made technology, but in much more extreme and thoroughgoing ways as well. The content of our internet worlds is determined by each of us individually: we go where we want when we want, see only what we want to see, interact only with people we want to interact with, and so on. This is often explained in terms of the “echo chamber” effect. And then there is the immense, quiet power of the innumerable algorithms that learn from our behavior in order to automatically feed us what we want and manipulate our behavior in ways that are tailored to our own individual psychology.Adam Seagrave, “The internet is changing the way all of us think and socialise” at MercatorNet
The key difference between the echo chamber of social media — immensely profitable for the social media themselves — and a typical natural environment is apparent to all of us if we stop to think: A person who belongs to a house league, a residents’ association, or a church, for example, will not find it easy to just tune out everyone who doesn’t think the same way. But not only can we tune others out on social media; the very structure of these media encourages us to do just that.
This echo change effect is probably the main driver of the vitriol and Cancel Culture campaigns currently raging through Big Social Media. Those who live their lives through Facebook and Twitter do not reside and do not need to reside in the same communities as the people they are denigrating and trying to destroy.
Unfortunately, many pundits think that what’s needed is some sort of “reality czar” or censor to police the internet. Three reasons why that would be a bad idea stand out:
First, as noted earlier, the pundits who want such measures seldom accuse themselves of the bad social behavior. Generally, whoever disputes their view of things is seen as the “out of control” one.
Second, a look at the reporting habits of many big media today (from whom the censors would likely be drawn) will quickly disabuse the reader of any notion that we will be a better informed public if they control what we can access. We would be stuck inside their bubble. The coverage of the Capitol Riot, is a case in point: What actually happened and what the media reported were two quite different stories.
Lastly, journalism has changed a lot since the internet really took hold. As commentator Glenn Greenwald puts it, “A new and rapidly growing journalistic ‘beat’ has arisen over the last several years that can best be described as an unholy mix of junior high hall-monitor tattling and Stasi-like citizen surveillance. It is half adolescent and half malevolent. Its primary objectives are control, censorship, and the destruction of reputations for fun and power.” That’s mainly because the internet means that such media are no longer needed to convey basic information. And they have decayed. So the people least competent to exercise authority over what the rest of us should know would be most likely to want the role.
The wisest solution for most of us is to spend less time interacting on line and more time interacting in the real world, to whatever extent COVID restrictions allow.
The last word on that topic goes to The Babylon Bee: “Kid Abandons Her Toys To Watch Other Kids Play With The Same Toys On YouTube” If we don’t think there is something the matter with that… we are definitely part of the problem. 😉
You may also wish to read: Researchers: We learn better using paper than laptops and phones. Writing on paper involves more of our whole minds and even more of our bodies — and that aids retention. Digital note-taking is convenient but students should be prepared to use a wider range of strategies if difficult subjects challenge their comprehension.