Renowned thought leader Edward De Bono was reported on an Australian news site this week as stating that “social networks are making people lazy and stupid”. My immediate reaction was the knee-jerk ‘what an ignorant, generalising idiot’ of most of my contemporaries in social media land. But when I stopped to think about it, it occurred to me that we would say that as we’re all heavy users who gain and an awful lot from social networks, right? We’re biased. So could there be something in what he says?
Leaving aside the sensationalist assertions of laziness and stupidity (which look like they may have been paraphrased in any case), the article quotes De Bono as saying that people take the information they receive through social media at face value. It says he feels that people are forgoing decision making and creative thinking in favour of information gleaned online and from social media. It’s hardly news that we live in an increasingly information-rich culture, that we are being encouraged to share more and more details of our lives, from where we’ve been and what we’ve done to what we think, informed or otherwise. So is it therefore such a huge leap to posit that today’s data-led media results in a portion of society who believe most of what they read on Twitter or Facebook and base their choices on this?
It is undoubtedly a gross generalisation to postulate that society as a whole is becoming incapable of independent thought or rationalisation, or that the ability to research new ideas and opinions is dying. And where De Bono really goes off the rails (in my opinion) is where he says that school, rather than online, is better for creative thinking. Surely the two work best in synergy? And when he admits that he doesn’t actually use social media himself as he doesn’t want to be “bullied by information”, I can feel my ‘ignorant idiot’ hackles start to rise again.
But looking beyond the poorly set out nature of his argument, maybe the underlying message isn’t too far from the truth. Amber Naslund challenged her readers on the same day to forget looking for tools and seeking out endless information. She challenged them to take the initiative, roll up their sleeves and to think through problems by asking questions, creating and being accountable. Her message was very similar to De Bono: use social media for your benefit, but stop taking online information at face value, question what you read, and learn.
It’s easy when you work within social media and are experienced at heavy use and analysis not to see beyond the bubble of other people who work within social media and are experienced at heavy use and analysis. But we really are the minority. Let’s not forget, and this is very important, that social media is only a tool. But it’s a game-changing tool and people use it in different ways. Are social networks making people lazy and stupid? Of course not, and that’s a ridiculous assertion. But they are changing the way in which we find information and make decisions. What do you make of De Bono’s thoughts?
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