Monday, December 17, 2007

Is the Internet becoming an Opium of the Masses?

Mashable published their own end-of-the-year summary, called "Trends that shaped the web". They put a lot of emphasis on social networks and the way politicians learned to use social media.

It's true that we are seeing a lot more political action and debate online, but I am wondering if that's a good thing. For one, politics is very one-sided in places like Digg. Only some of the opinions are represented, while other sides of the debate are shoved aggressively aside.

We are also seeing a lot of protests, causes and political "action" in Facebook. If you have a cause you want to promote, you simply create one in a few seconds, invite all your friends and maybe attract some interest. It's very easy to protest and demonstrate using Facebook. Which is exactly the problem - it's too easy and convenient. It makes a person thinks he is actually DOING something good, but in practice, all he did was click on a link and forget about it.

Facebook protests and causes, online petitions and social media politics don't make us more involved. They actually anesthetize us - they make us think we are contributing something to the world by raising awareness, but in truth, all those online "activities" make us less active. People are not going to demonstrations, because they "demonstrate" online. You don't write to your elected representative, because you clicked on it in Facebook! We sign an online petition and forget about it, because we think it's enough.

Some theories in the field of media studies, say that TV is the opium of the masses (as a reference to Karl Marx's saying, "Religion is the opiate of the people"). TV and mass media were used effectively for many years, to make the public either scared as hell or sleepy and indifferent. Anything to prevent the people from taking real action. Seems like the internet, an active medium as it may be, is starting to do the same thing.

There are a lot of good things happening online, but we shouldn't forget - many times, online action isn't enough. Facebook protests are not effective - they are way too easy for that. There's a real world out there, and in order to change it for the better - we need to go beyond keyboard action. Clicking on links is not enough.