George Will in Our National Scourge of Misinformation writes that “Social media create the expectation that reality will perfectly follow our preferences.”
In 2005, Lynne Truss, in her book Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door, presciently said we were slouching into “an age of social autism” with a “Universal Eff-off Reflex.” Long before progress, understood as streaming, brought us binge watching, she foresaw people entertaining themselves into inanition with portable technologies that enable “limitless self-absorption,” making people solipsistic and unmannerly. Truss foresaw an age of “hair-trigger sensitivity” and “lazy moral relativism combined with aggressive social insolence.” This was twelve years before some Wellesley College professors said, last month, that inviting controversial, a.k.a. conservative, speakers to campus injures students by forcing them to “invest time and energy in rebutting the speakers’ arguments.”
In the latest issue of The American Interest, the Hudson Institute’s Carolyn Stewart, revisiting Truss’s book, wonders, “What is it about social media that compels us to throw off the gloves?” Stewart notes that, as Truss anticipated, people “have taken an expectation that previously applied to the private sphere — control over our environment — and are increasingly applying it to the public sphere.” Social media’s “self-affirming feedback loop” encourages “expectations for a custom-made reality” and indignation about anything “that deviates from our preferences.”
The consequences of what Stewart calls “our growing intolerance of an unedited reality” are enumerated in Tom Nichols’s new book The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters. Our devices and social media are, he says, producing people who confuse “internet grazing” with research and this faux research with higher education, defined by a wit as “those magical seven years between high school and your first warehouse job.” Years when students demand to run institutions that the students insist should treat them as fragile children…
The “spreading epidemic of misinformation,” nowadays known as “alternative facts,” gives rise to a corollary to Gresham’s Law (“bad money drives out good”): “Misinformation pushes aside knowledge.” Everyone with a smartphone has in his or her pocket, Nichols says, more information “than ever existed in the entire Library of Alexandria,” which can produce a self-deluding veneer of erudition.