Jenna Wortham wrote an article in the magazine section of the Nov. 27 New York Times that caught my attention, because the title is something I have thought about. It is “We’ve heard about the power of social media to help us empathize with others. But what if, instead, it’s just cocooning us with our friends? The article is here.
My answer to that question is undoubtedly cocooning us with our friends. As the article points out, sites that offer a broader look at the world (Vine, Snapchat, Tumblr) have either shut down, or are re-targeting to please their present and hopefully future customers by serving them what they would like to see and hear. If you were for Hillary in the last election did you see and hear much positive information about Trump, and vice versa? I think most of us who were for Hillary heard and saw mostly positive information about her, and little positive about Trump. I was for Hillary and never looked at a single example of Trump’s famous Tweets, and therefore, like most of my friends, was stunned when he won (still am).
The article makes some very believable points. Social media lives off of advertisements and the sale of big data. The more people that use their site, the more money they make and the more the network expands. It is easy for them to figure out what you like (on Facebook you even tell them). And seeking profit, it is reasonable that they like to feed you what you want to be fed. In fact this is true of all media.. Fox News flavors the news differently than CNN. The New York Times flavors it differently than the Las Vegas Review- Journal. I watch CNN and read the New York Times, as do my friends, who live in the same bubble.
Is social media helping unite the country after this very divisive campaign season? Is it helping us see both sides of the picture, or is it helping us continue to gather into increasingly narrow groups of like-minded people.
This is worth worrying about. Ms. Wortham concludes her article with the statement “if we can’t pay attention to one another, we might as well not live on the same planet.