Problem: Invoking Technology to Explain Change

Technology is so often an easy scapegoat for undesirable social/cultural/political changes, especially when they are associated with the young. Commentators so often conform to a structure of pointing out how there has been some undesirable change, providing some historical perspective (which, if you think about it, becomes easier and easier to do over time, in more ways than one…), and then writing a paragraph like this:

“Stepford concerns are over-amplified on social media. No sooner is a contentious subject raised than a university ‘campaign’ group appears on Facebook, or a hashtag on Twitter, demanding that the debate is shut down. Technology means that it has never been easier to whip up a false sense of mass outrage — and target that synthetic anger at those in charge. The authorities on the receiving end feel so besieged that they succumb to the demands and threats.”
– Brendan O’Neill, “Free speech is so last century. Today’s undergraduates demand the ‘right to be comfortable’“.

I don’t think O’Neill’s suggestion here is entirely groundless, but in its form it’s a classic example of the kind of throwaway reference to the impact of technology that we read so often, about things other than alleged differences in cultural sensibilities across generations – one might think of terror recruiting, or the polarization of political views.

So the ISM on Black Lives Matter I’ve referred to in a coupla posts on this blog is done, and both my supervisor and I are quite happy with the work. The theory (structure of communications as a way to understand social phenomena) and themes (what constitutes a social movement? what is the impact of technology?) are things I should probably develop further, and I’m writing this post mainly as a bookmark of sorts for the idea.

I don’t think ideas like ‘echo chamber’ or the illusion of being part of some majority (which I think O’Neill suggests, and which is referred to in this article) lack merit, but I think they certainly warrant greater critical investigation, especially as they are invoked so often.


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