Back in the day when the Civic Theatre sold movies and Edhouses sold everything else, we used phone party lines to arrange a meeting at the Ritz Milk Bar or to organise a spot of whitebaiting at the Ōtaki river.
A hamstring hadn’t yet been invented as a rugby injury, alcohol and cigarettes were harmless and a bet on the horses required a visit to the town’s TAB. Oh yes, things were simple and relaxed.
Do I sound nostalgic? Only if I forget how bad a one-dollar flagon of beer tasted or the sting of a teachers cane on a cold morning.
But now we have Facebook, Twitter and Google to make life a whole lot better. Or do we?
It’s certainly making these American corporations unprecedented profits and delivering a sugar-coated addiction to vast swaths of the population, but are we starting to see the down-side?
The answer is a qualified yes.
The internet is producing global connectivity and freedoms like we’ve never witnessed before. But the irony of much new media and technology is that it tends to connect people in ways that encourages personal social isolation.
Take as examples the spectacles of Donald Trump and Brexit. In both cases the ability of campaigns to mobilise targeted misinformation was decisive in the results. This happened in a media environment that has been trending, for some decades, towards the replacement of expert advice and evidence, in favour of ‘the baseless opinion’.
Of course, we know it’s become completely nuts when the President of the United States not only rules with inflated and baseless opinions, but blatantly does it in the face of the truth or evidence.
But we should have concerns closer to home. For example, we are seeing mounting evidence among many people, especially younger people, of increased anxiety and depression.
Is this any wonder when a mobile phone is all that matters - a hand-held social connector and window on the world? That window is not necessarily into a healthy and diverse ecosystem, but an echo chamber constructed with corporate algorithms and a downward spiral of personal addiction to digital sugar. Many people, especially younger citizens, seem to no longer know the difference between fact and fiction, and between what is trustworthy and what’s not. That might also mean there’s a lack of understanding between good and bad, and between right and wrong.
I recently spoke to a professor at Victoria University who lamented the way his students were inpatient to get a pass mark and graduate. They are intent on “getting the answers” as one gets in a Google search, but not so interested in understanding “why” something is the way it is. In other words, forget about real questions, critical analysis and the ability to think for one’s self. Just give me the answers and move on.
So why will social media, at least as we know it now, decline? History tells us that trends don’t necessarily continue in one direction and that for many actions, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
In this, our next generation holds the answer. Many young people tell me they are already rejecting the cynical enclosures that social media offers and seeking genuine social connectivity. For example, some high school students, appalled by recent US school shootings and arcane gun laws, asked for my help to connect them online with students in Florida.
Social media is no longer an option for them, mainly because gun nuts troll all platforms. And, unlike a real website, each social platform is not universally used by all citizens, messages are seen-and-gone (no sensible record) and personal data can be misappropriated.
Maybe the one-dollar beer and party line wasn’t so bad after all?