Sunday 20 March 2022

Social Media and Critical Sclerosis

Wanting to read endless critiques of the same thing - whether it's of education, educational technology, the pandemic, the war - is a kind of sclerosis. When we know everyone is basically saying the same thing, there are no new fundamental ideas, nothing constructive to address the deep-seated problems which lie behind the critique, then we have to ask "Why do we continue to look at this stuff?" There must be an explanation. Our (my) critical sclerosis is telling us something.

Double-binds are usually responsible for why we become stuck. The nature of the double-bind is that there is a contradiction at different levels of understanding, and then a prohibition on being able to articulate the contradiction. With "Critical Sclerosis" there is continual search for information - difference - in our environment. The reason why this occurs may be physiological and evolutionary: for some reason (about which there are theories) we are driven to continually seek out information about our environment. While we have become able to create difference for each other online (and desire to do this - so we share, tweet, etc), fundamentally our difference-creating operations are deceptive - the "boasting" online is deception - an intervention to get a reaction (think Trump). We deceive because we seek the information of feedback that our deception creates - it tells us something about those around us - so ties into the need to continually seek information. So the internet is a web of deception. It is interesting to note that those talking about the future of the web want to increase the deception with things like the Metaverse. This is unlikely to be a good idea! 

Selecting deceptions drains us of energy - fundamentally then, this sets up the first bind. We waste energy in articulating deceptions, and being drawn to reading them, which makes us more likely to make more deception. 

The second bind in the double-bind is easy: not only does nobody want to be called a liar (especially us!),  but even if we want to say "you're a liar", we are tempted to do it for the largest audience - i.e. online. But of course, to do that, is to posture and deceive in our communication. Unfortunately, academic status is something which is increasingly tied into this. If we really want to call out someone's deception online, then it must be done personally and intimately. This, of course, is very hard and emotionally difficult and will likely result in "unfollows"  and so closes-down the conversation. So the social media double-bind is very powerful - no wonder critical sclerosis has set in. What it means is that the variety of communications becomes restricted to those communications where the response is predictable by the community: "yes, I agree!". That's the sclerosis. I should hope nobody agrees with me, but of course I don't.  

There's a parallel here with Von Foerster's conjecture (see this brilliant paper: The unlikely encounter between von Foerster and Snowden: When second-order cybernetics sheds light on societal impacts of Big Data ( Von Foerster suggested that education and social systems tend to turn us into "Trivial Machines" - machines where the output is predictable from the input. The more trivial our communications, the more we are inclined to perceive our environment as overwhelmingly complex and alienating. I'm sure some element of this fits the double-bind of social media (as the paper discusses). 

But perhaps Von Foerster is too pessimistic about humans being capable of being turned into trivial machines. We are not really machines at all. Trivial behaviour is anathema to being human, and yet we do engage in trivial behaviour because we become sclerotic. We have sclerotic institutions and a sclerotic communication environment. What is at the root of the sclerosis but deception! The question to ask is why we deceive and what we might do about it. Technologies amplify deception, as does language. But some forms of communication are more authentic where empathy, kindness, generosity are expressions of the truth of relationships. Music does this too. 

In those more authentic communications, there is a healthier psychodynamic balance. Our non-trivial nature lies in our psychodynamics - the pull of the unconscious in our creative dealings with the world. In this terrible time, there is little doubt that we will need psychotherapy - not just the people of Ukraine and Russia, but all of us as we look to understand what has happened to us over the last few years. 

1 comment:

cj said...

The problem of critical sociology is that it can never fail to be right. Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 249.