• "To insist that Facebook causes social alienation is a bit like saying that leg warmers caused the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s." (AAP)
"To insist that Facebook causes social alienation is a bit like saying that leg warmers caused the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. The social alienation was already there."
By
Helen Razer

1 Jun 2016 - 2:51 PM  UPDATED 1 Jun 2016 - 3:01 PM

What tosh. If there’s anything destroying Our Youth, it’s high unemployment, low housing affordability and their current need to sell off youthful kidneys if they want to stay in school. But, try telling that to the non-youth internet, which decided at some point to blame all youth difficulty on apps and other new cultural and communication forms.

Humans have long had the habit of blaming fairly small things for pretty big problems. It’s much easier and more tempting to charge, for example, that newfangled hip hop music with the decline of western civilisation than, say, the leaders of western civilisation themselves. Was it increasingly unjust fiscal policy that robbed the pockets of the many to line those of the few that led to the widespread disenchantment of an age-range? NO, Silly. It was Kanye. Look at him in his expensive trainers. Destroying Our Youth, so much more than having no identifiable job prospects ever could.

Please, bugger off. And I ask this not only because of my ongoing devotion to Kanye who, despite his questionable approach to awards ceremonies and to marriage, remains one of the most incisive critics of his era. I ask this because grownups have been embarrassing themselves long enough. One century ago, many newspaper columnists were publishing their concern that it was postcards, then novel, that had led to the moral devastation of Our Youth. Of course, at the time many of Our Youth were being sent to die in a great and tragic war. Was the widespread slaughter of young bodies in the service of empire responsible for a generational shift in attitude? NO. It was the corrupting postcard, the status update of its time.

It’s much easier and more tempting to charge, for example, that newfangled hip hop music with the decline of western civilisation than, say, the leaders of western civilisation themselves.

These days, any practice undertaken by more than two persons under thirty is held to be a corrupting trend. Last week, for example, an actual adult human decided to post her “thoughts" on the diminished inclination of young women to bear children. Young women are too selfish and busy with Instagram, she says, to reproduce. To prosecute her thoroughly modern case, the author refers to something Paris Hilton wrote ten years ago and something about some young woman she read in the Daily Mail. Well, move over Max Weber. This is some world-changing evidence-based sociology.

There are plenty of reasons that young people find reproduction unappealing, and I suggest the least of them is, as this brave new social theorist has it, their preoccupation with “the best Instagram filter”. It may have a little more to do with spiralling childcare costs, wage stagnation or perhaps the irrational but nonetheless paralysing fear that if we do, like the author of this piece, have children, we might also say excruciatingly dumb things in a public place.

Things like “Instagram is choking your womb” or “Tinder has ruined love” or “YouTube leads to unemployment”.  Who are these people, from where did they receive their education and why, at no point, did they not learn that truth that correlation does not imply causation? To insist that Facebook causes social alienation is a bit like saying that leg warmers caused the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. The social alienation was already there.

These days, any practice undertaken by more than two persons under thirty is held to be a corrupting trend. 

Of course, it would be just stubborn to overlook the fact that new technologies produce new possibilities for disaster. Just as the train accident is only made possible by the invention of the train, the ill-advised angry text message is only made possible by the invention of the mobile device. Which is to say, emerging technology really can accelerate or even cause emerging kinds of problems.

But, it is also to say that we generally figure out how to guard against these new problems in time. Engineers gave us safer railways. Developers gave us apps to stop us texting when drunk. And, I have told the older female relative to whom I donated my old smartphone about this particular software advance, but she just won’t listen. Three sherries in and she’ll send me, “y don’t u get a reel job?”

There text messages reveal a few strange things about the power of technology to change behaviour not more radically in younger persons, but older ones. This particular lady, who abbreviates “why” to “y” and asks me quite brazen questions, is a convent girl. She was taught impeccable manners and impeccable grammar by nuns. But, all of that went out the window as soon as she saw her first emoji.

Just as the train accident is only made possible by the invention of the train, the ill-advised angry text message is only made possible by the invention of the mobile device. 

My mother who has always been mindful of privacy once trolled me on my public Facebook page. My uncle who has long held that political conviction was a matter between him and a polling booth sent me a group email hailing Donald Trump. Rupert Murdoch, whose entire career has been built on covert dissemination of ideology, can’t control himself on Twitter. As for my generation X who write all the stupid articles about The Youth being Destroyed by indiscriminate use of social media. Well, have you seen what we post? Every dull detail of our self-important lives. Every meal eaten. Every calorie skipped. Every exploitative ultra-luxe vacation we take in a third world villa.

If there’s any demographic being Destroyed by technology, it’s in the age range thirty and above. The youngsters know how to shut up and keep a little to themselves. The rest of us are yet to master that skill. 

If you fear a train accident, you must alight at the very next station. Don’t blame the fear of a crash on the youngsters safely enjoying the ride.

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