Technology has provided a medium through which we are allowed opportunities to feel a sense of social connection and communal belonging; however, real or actual these people or interactions may be, the objective reality of this activity is often overlooked or ignored: it is still mediated through an individual’s interaction with a piece of technology; that is, it is still me, the individual author, typing away at this keyboard, viewing words on my screen, and conceptualizing a general audience who will read these words.
However, no matter my degree of precision or accuracy, there will always be a degree of disconnect between my intention and the audience’s interpretation. Nonetheless, the medium of the written tradition using expository prose has far deeper roots than those of Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, or other modern-day, internet-based forms of communication.
The historicity of the linguistic form of prose provides my expression a higher probability of concordance between the audience’s reception and my intention as the author. Conversely, these new social media platforms lack this kind of historical foundation yet are treated as if they are the same. As a result, tools of rhetorical analysis and logical examination are employed while using these platforms that I argue demonstrate an invalid usage of such analytical tools.
For example, one common distortion that I believe social media platforms have allowed to become rampant is conflating particular and universal statements. These platforms are intended to provide an outlet for truncated expressions, yet we utilize them as if they may also allow us the nuance of having an in-person debate. Moreover, we forget how arduous it is to use language precisely and employ logic even during in-person interactions.
Using nonverbal communication, oral expression, and gauging the reception of our message through analyzing our audience’s demeanor, serve to highlight the complexity of in-person interaction, despite this medium being biologically hardwired. However, we have somehow found ourselves assuming that this same level of human communication can be experienced via technological mediums.
Yet, is reading not different than hearing? Is interacting through Zoom not different than interacting with someone in person? Is it not different to interact with someone one-on-one rather than to interact in front of a group?
Social media platforms are so often vilified for promoting division and groupthink among people—and I am not here to defend these mediums—instead, I desire to point out that these platforms are nothing more than a technological medium that has amplified and underscored fundamental issues within human communication that were present before these platforms existed.
Therefore, my emphasis is to not place our hope in the notion that abandoning the usage of these platforms or refining the etiquette of how they are used will solve the divisions we are witnessing as a collective society. Even if we were to leave these platforms altogether and return to a prior state of communication standards, we still would be plagued by our challenges with wielding language, our proclivity toward fallacious arguments, and reliance on personal biases.
While technological interconnectivity may have accelerated these ailments, even accentuating them to new levels, it is nonetheless exploiting weaknesses in human communication and social discourse that have long existed.
The emphasis should be placed on understanding the tools of rhetoric, the structure of logic, and the importance and purpose of argumentation as a medium for discovering the truth. To place the burden on social media platforms or even news sources is to fall, once more, into the trap of oversimplification, treating everything as either a friend or foe in a perpetual fight on one side or the other of a raging societal debate—all the while glossing over or willfully ignoring the deficits of discourse that continue to result in arguments premised on false dilemmas, misunderstandings stemming from conflated terms, and so forth.
I believe we are desperately craving conversations that are deeper than those mediated through social media platforms. Unfortunately, these platforms also serve as the easiest and most accessible way for us to connect with a vast number of others; moreover, social media has become integrated into our social lives and does allow for genuine social connection, despite it being a novel medium for it.
However, the structures of these platforms are not neutral. Even for those who set out with the sincere desire to engage in an authentic social interaction can easily find their desire for a meaningful discourse devolve into debates and diatribes, serving only to increase their sense of isolation and wish to find a community that provides a sense of belonging.