Social media, what a hot mess! Still, hard to imagine the world these days without them. They’re immensely useful in so many ways, and in just as many ways, they can be tremendously harmful. What can we—as individuals and as a society—do to reduce the damage that social media can cause while boosting their helpfulness? Best-selling author Nicholas Carr, whose work focuses on technology, economics, and culture, details his plan for resolving major social media problems in this Fall 2021 essay from the New Atlantis.
Read it here.
EXPLORE, REFLECT, SPEAK UP.
1. Nicholas Carr telescopes the long and complex history of mass media into a compact and coherent account. Write a brief summary of Carr’s account. How useful is this historical background in helping you understand the complexities of today’s social media environment? Explain the reasons for your response.
2. In paragraphs 18 and 19, Carr describes the “rumors and lies, slur and slanders” that amateur radio operators caused, leading up to a crisis following the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912. He later draws an analogy between this crisis, which led directly to the Radio Act of 1912, and the situation we face today (see paragraph 27), saying that the situations should sound “uncomfortably familiar.” How sound is this analogy? In what ways is the situation of social media today like that of the early radio days – and how is it different? Does the analogy work to persuade you that we should learn “important lessons” from the radio operators’ interference—and why or why not?
3. LET’S TALK. Carr proposes that any regulatory efforts that we attempt to institute should be based, as they were in the past, on the distinction between public and private speech. He acknowledges, however, that it is impossible to “draw a bright line” between the two. Reflect on your own social media use, both as creator and consumer. How easily can you distinguish between public and private? What challenges does the question present? Discuss your reflections and observations with a few classmates with the goal of helping all of you draw your distinctions more sharply.
4. AND NOW WRITE. After providing a clear and cogent history of changes in technology that have evolved from “one to one” to “one to many” and from personal/private to public communication, Carr proposes regulation in the form of a new Digital Communications Act that would protect the privacy of personal communication while serving the public interest in broadcasting or “one to many” communication. What’s your take on whether a new set of regulations like the one he describes could be successful? Could it really work? Assume you are invited to add comments to Carr’s essay and write directly to him, explaining why you do or do not agree that a new Digital Communications Act could “fix” social media.