There’s a two-part story in my favorite Star Trek series, “Voyager”, where the crew goes back in time to Earth in 1996. I’m often reminded of a bit of dialog in the script; a tech company CEO has gotten his hands on future technology and is introducing it to the 20th century United States, and the Voyager crew comments that society isn’t ready for this technology yet and that social norms haven’t caught up to the technology they have. This is creating problems for the populace.
It makes me think of today’s approach to Social Media.
When Facebook and Twitter first came around, a year or two before the mass introduction of the ‘smart phone’, it was a nifty playground for those that were technologically savvy. Even though we had moved onto “Web 2.0” earlier in the decade, there was still a bit of the tech street cred present for the earlier era, where the idea was the Internet would provide valuable, coherent information. Yes, we were babbling on blogs (just like this one!) but people weren’t purposely throwing out ridiculous conspiracy theories for the entire world to consume in 140 character bites.
Then Twitter and Facebook became a major part of the national conversation, the technology became readily available to everyone, and bad actors purposely started skewing and distorting facts into fiction and suddenly everyone had an opinion.
I know. I’ve been sharing my opinion on things via this blog since 2001. But I’ve always tried to stick to the facts and despite how it may seem from time to time, I do filter my emotions a bit here. I don’t want to be known as an Internet troll. I don’t want to damage society through social media or other Internet based information channels.
The issue is that technology has cleared outpaced society’s ability for everyone to handle the capabilities responsibly. Now, I know this may make me sound a bit elitist, but I don’t think EVERYONE needs to have the entire Internet at their disposal. Not only does it invite bad people to anonymously write damaging things for the entire world to consume, but it puts many people in danger. How many folks do you know that have been scammed out of maybe thousands and thousands of dollars through an email or a ransomware attack or even a dire sounding text message sent through one of the many messaging services?
If we’re going to use the Internet it’s important that we do so intelligently and that we know what we’re doing and where we’re doing it. We can’t let technology outpace us, not in our national dialog, not in our homes, and not with our bank accounts. (You should see how many “smart doorbells” I’ve had the opportunity to hack as I walk through the neighborhood. Did I hack them? No. But not everyone wears a white hat like I do).
I don’t have the solution for fixing this problem. License computer users? It’ll never happen. Slow down the digital economy? Never happen. The best we can do is educate, share concerns, and try to steer people in the right direction.
Social media is never going away. If anything, it’s just going to get worse. Any effort to try to keep it in some sort of credible space is all we have.
God help us all.