Do you find yourself nervous and at wits end about all the problems with social media and kids? Do you dread hearing the next news report about kids, screens, and digital addiction because it feels too close to home? Are you regularly worried about the intensity of your own digital activities?
Few people will argue with the notion that our digital world needs tweaking. With data collecting running amock, hackers breaking into corporations around the world, bad actors using social media for espionage, parents’ worrying about screen time, and our personal privacy and information challenged day in and day out, people tend to panic about their kids and themselves. But panic is nothing new.
Throughout history people have expressed a sense of panic when new ideas and new technologies creep into and markedly change their lives. It’s a predictable pattern that has been demonstrated, again and again, year after year: loving and feeling comfortable with the status quo, feeling suspicious about anything new that brings changes, worrying about the effect of innovation on younger generations, and sometimes threatening to disrupt or even destroy those innovations. Eventually the new becomes old and is accepted, new ideas and devices appear, and the cycle or anxiety begins again.
I am a fan of Adam Thierer’s Technology Liberation Front blog and he recently shared a post that addresses this cycle of angst. His posts are full of observations and ideas that make me consider issues from varying viewpoints. Even though I do not always agree with all that he writes about market-based economics, I regularly read the blog. Thierer serves as a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
His piece An Epic Moral Panic Over Social Media addresses the angst cycle, and more importantly, the tendency of leaders promote their own digital world thoughts without knowing enough (or anything) about the topic. Adam Thierer takes issue with a USA Today op-ed, written by U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri). The Senator’s column, a diatribe really, takes the position that social media needs to disappear and go away.
He sounds like those fire-breathing politicians and pundits of the past century who vociferously protested everything from comic books to cable television, the waltz to the Walkman, and rock-and-roll to rap music. In order to save the youth of America, many past critics said, we must destroy the media or media platforms they are supposedly addicted to. That is exactly what Sen. Hawley would have us do to today’s leading media platforms because, in his opinion, they “do our country more harm than good.” [Check out the entire blog post.]
Doom and gloom have been around throughout history. People protest and denigrate new ideas and devices saying they have little value — whether it’s Plato teaching students to write and Socrates saying they would lose memory skills, or Guttenberg inventing the printing press and scientist Conrad Gesser sharing his own opinion that the printing press will cause information overload, or Thomas Edison receiving ridicule about the light bulb his company was inventing.
Change scares many people: more so when younger generations embrace and run with it while older generations are trying to figure everything out. Remember the initial reaction to Alaska Senator Ted Stevens’ description of the Internet as a series of tubes?
We are now about 25 years into the digital world, a world so connected that anyone can look up and learn about anything at any time. The dramatic changes in our lives have brought us much that is good, but we, adults and children, also face dramatic challenges that require us to pay attention to the problems, reinforce the values of respect and honesty, learn new skills outside our comfort zones, and take steps to help our children — and ourselves — become more thoughtful, careful, and competent users of digital tools and media.
Senator Hawley’s ideas simply won’t help with any of that.