Do social media make the world more boring? (23 November 2010)

Amidst all the hype about the future of social media, there seems to be an assumption that social media are either good or, at worst, benign. Those who argue for positive effects cite the potential for new collaborations, for linking up small networks globally, for stimulating societal debate. They point to coloured revolutions powered by social connections and a global village on a hill. All great stuff, but is it true? As we reduce ourselves to two dimensional home pages or Facebook walls, and limit our discourse to overly quick instant messaging and thoughtless “wow”/“yuck” reactions, perhaps social media reinforce existing connections, simultaneously rendering them more shallow, as anyone with a few hundred LinkedIn connections would agree. By limiting our time for other discourse and channelling our connections social media may well reinforce our prejudices, increase our bigotry or intolerance and reduce our ability to interact with those who are not part of our group. We may be in danger of losing the ancient social skills of the Forum or the Polis – tolerance, debate, free speech – that are essential to the vibrant, democratic societies these social media are supposedly enabling.

Dr Aleks Krotoski has been studying social media for over a decade and is increasingly concerned that the negative effects of social media are ignored. In this evening’s discussion she hopes to provide a richer view of the positive and negative effects of social media, bringing to bear recent research she has conducted and some of the conclusions from her forthcoming book.

Aleks Krotoski

Aleks is an academic and journalist who writes about and studies technology and interactivity. Her PhD thesis in Social Psychology (University of Surrey, 2009) examined how information spreads around the social networks of the World Wide Web. She recently completed the 4-part, prime time BBC 2 series Virtual Revolution, about the social history of the World Wide Web. She blogged for the project here, outlining her manifestos about the social, political, economic and psychological impact of the 20 years of the Web. Aleks writes for The Guardian and Observer newspapers, and hosts Tech Weekly, their technology podcast. Her writing also appears on BBC Technology, New Statesman, MIT Technology Review and The Telegraph. Finally, she’s the New Media Sector Champion for UKTI, the government department that promotes British businesses around the world.