Critical Thinking Iz Day-ud!
Updated: Mar 26
“My brain hurts!”
—“Gumby”, from Monty Python
Social Media is the end of depth. We are in the middle of a great social experiment with the world as the laboratory. And a decade or two from now when the data is in (as well as the anecdotal evidence of the collapse of civilization), we'll be amazed and appalled at what kind of Genie we let loose from the bottle. But perhaps vampire would be more apt. According to legend, the vampire must be invited inside. And this is precisely what happens, as billions of people throughout the world volunteer to be unwitting subjects. And the platforms are many—to give the illusion of choice—but the experiment is the same. Take a society and train its members to be externally referenced and blithely superficial, with the surface as the ne plus ultra. A photo of today's lunch on Instagram: LIKE. A virtue-signaling meme on Facebook: LOVE. (By pressing the LOVE button, we show how superior we are!* And more LOVEs ensue, as an army of the virtuous marches virtually on.)
Now imagine the platform itself. For example, Facebook. A billion people post pics of their new hairstyle, their breakfast, their pet, while their profile selfie is emblazoned with a trending border to show how woke, progressive, cool, and enlightened they are. Back in the olden days, someone might have to consider a difficult subject in depth to arrive at their own conclusions regarding it. And the result of such focused effort might be something unique to add to the conversation. A new way of looking at things brought forth from applied intellect and self-reflection. We are, after all, rational and reasoning creatures, we humans. If we weren't, we'd still be grunting in caves making fire. But through the Great Social Media Experiment, we renounce en masse our birthright as critical thinkers, and embrace without hesitation this decidedly un-brave new world of a single dimension. We're impatient with anything beneath the surface, to the point of utterly disregarding it. We've become bipedal lab rats desperate for that dopamine food pellet, who merely react instinctively (and predictably) to stimuli from the experimenter. Reason, rationality, equanimity are all out the window, replaced by blind emotionalism and a petulant impatience for self-gratification, such as the behavior displayed by a toddler. Today, we have a Toddler Society and temper tantrums are the norm. And it would be bad enough if the experiment ended here, with blind conformity, complacent blissful ignorance, and grown-ups behaving as four-year-olds. But mass superficiality has become weaponized, with adult toddlers acting out with adult violence and destruction. It's the old saw of absolute power corrupting absolutely. Imagine yourself running Facebook, with a billion souls literally at your disposal. Never in human history has such a small number of people exerted such power and influence over so many. It would tempt anyone to take the wheel at the helm of such a juggernaut. And like a murmuration of starlings, this mass of humanity is seemingly moved at will across whatever sky holds the mover's sun.
And part of the experiment involves classical Physics. Force equals mass times acceleration. But perhaps that's the wrong equation. In f=ma, the greater the mass, the greater the amount of force required to move it. Whereas on Social Media, it's inversely proportional. The slightest thing can move the masses like automata in any direction. And what are the things subtracted from this equation? Scrutiny? Discernment? Rational assessment? Weighing of facts against fabrication? Intellect rigorously applied? Equanimity? Reasoning free from bias and impulsive emotionalism? In short, critical thinking. And this is the passport required to venture beneath the surface, to that foreign land where we used to want to go—namely, depth. A depth of intellectual inquiry, culture, and the human condition itself, as examined throughout millennia by minds that were alive and on fire. And sure, superficiality has always been with us. But now, thanks to Social Media, it's reached its zenith (our nadir). Social Media is destroying civilization, one person at a time, simultaneously. The anti-miracle of the online reality. Omnipresent, and ceaselessly determined to spread its flat, arid surface over the world like a new Sahara desert. And we'll clamor for those dopamine hits in the mirage as we all die of thirst.
*And this is the fundamental question: Why do we need to feel superior?
(This essay is part of Kevin Kunundrum's new book, UTOPIA—short stories, poems, & essays.)