The social media cupcake
Gabe McDonald | Tuesday, September 6, 2011
There is a spectre haunting Our Lady’s University — the spectre of social media. As The Observer proudly informed us last Friday, this past June the USA Today ranked the University of Notre Dame No. 1 on its list of 20 American colleges that have promoted the use of social media. The enthusiasm with which a famously conservative university has embraced Generation Y’s hipster toys is indeed very touching, but as much as I hate to rain on our only parade that’s still dry, I can’t help but ask that thorny question: Is this really what we want?
Our marketing and communications director, Don Schindler, has an article on his blog in which he spiritedly defends Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere as the way of the future, complete with a slideshow explaining why social media is “the most awesomest thing ever” (apparently because you can Photoshop a cat’s head onto Keanu Reeves’ body). But remarkably scant attention is paid to the presumed benefits of social media and the overwhelming central argument seems to be the simple claim, “It’s happening whether you like it or not. So if you’re not on board you’re screwed.” This kind of unquestioning fatalism has propelled the movement forward at breakneck speed, but quixotic as this may seem, I think it’s high time somebody asked the question that I think deserves repeating: Is this really what we want?
I, of course, belong to the younger half of humanity, the under-30 crowd who have never known a life without the Internet, so I have no right to invoke nostalgic memories of the “good ol’ days,” but I don’t think it requires clear memories of a time when people socialized by getting together and actually interacting with one another rather than from darkened rooms behind a computer screen to know which of these I prefer. We once dreamed of a world in which everyone would be given a voice, and now we live in a world where everyone has not only a voice but also a microphone, and nobody can hear what anyone is saying. A world where truth is determined by majority opinion. A world where amateurish rip-offs are passed off as art and where any sense of depth to human existence is being drowned out in a sea of superficiality and mediocrity. Yes, the Internet is fast, sexy and efficient, and yes, it is the future. But at the end of the day, that nagging question won’t go away: Is this really what we want?