Are the Liberal Arts an Antidote to Social Media?

The performative nature of our social media personas.

August 14, 2016

Are the liberal arts an antidote to social media?

Why does social media need an antidote in the first place?

Are platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram more like diseases than a tools?

Think about how we use social media. We curate our tweets, status updates, photos, (and yes blog posts) to present an image. We are managing other people’s perceptions of us. 

Through our social media channels we try to come across as irreverent, critical, ironic, engaged, informed - or whatever traits are most valued in our professional and personal networks.

Anyone who has gone to school at a liberal arts institution, or followed a liberal arts course of study, should wonder about the costs the constant social media presentation of self.

A big part of a liberal arts education is the space to try out new ideas, to change your views and opinions, and to be open to different realities than you once thought possible.  Social media works the other way.  Our social media networks are made up of people who are likely to have similar backgrounds, and similar cultural and political orientations.  

Gray areas, considered thinking, and a willingness to be wrong (or at least admit to not having the answers) don’t play well in the performative culture of social media. There is no space to try out ideas - and to be potentially be wrong but to learn something in the process of writing- in the space of 140 characters. 

The irony is that the skills prioritized in a liberal arts education may in fact prepare us well to thrive on social media. The ability to write well, to make strong arguments, and to synthesize lots of information -  are all some of the skills that are associated with a liberal arts education. These are also skills that come in very handy in building and maintaining a social media persona.

But what if we are misusing our hard-earned liberal arts skills on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms? What if social media, through the medium's emphasis on performance and presentation of self, is really damaging to the development of nuanced thinking?

There is no doubt that our contributions to social media are also contributions to a corporate bottom line.  By creating content for social media platforms, and by spending our time reading other people’s social media content, we are fueling a set of advertising and data driven monetary exchanges.  These social media enabled monetary exchanges concentrate wealth (and influence) amongst a few corporations - perhaps a reality that should give us all some pause.

A discussion about the power, and potential harm (as well as benefits), of social media is a discussion that I am starting to see occur on many of our (liberal arts) campuses.

Is this a discussion that is starting to happen at your school?

Do you know anyone, or maybe have you yourself, made an affirmative decision not to participate in social media?  To not spend time on the Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or other platforms that dominate the social media landscape?

What does one lose, and what does one gain, by not participating in social media?

I invite you to follow me on Twitter.  



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