Social Media Is Making People Dumber, Fears Elliott's Paul Singer

Excerpted from Elliott Management's latest letter to investors,

PROGRESS?

Some technology represents unquestioned progress, despite causing real challenges to the employment prospects of citizens who are made redundant. For example, recent advances in science and medicine have merely scratched the surface in terms of enhancing our ability to find cures for diseases in an increasingly focused way at sharply diminished cost. Also, the technology of moving people and goods in vehicles and organizing their movement on roads contains tremendous opportunities for cost and energy efficiencies, as do the areas of resource extraction, the development of alternative energy and the efficiency of food production. These are just a few obvious and impactful areas in which technological progress has lots of headroom for human betterment.

On the other hand, some technological progress is not really progress at all. Innovations in the technology of communications, including social media, provide increasingly powerful and robust platforms to disseminate information. Unfortunately, these same increasingly powerful and robust platforms are also used to spread information that is untrue, and to package information in tiny bits of faux-knowledge that (because of their sheer volume) leave little room for neither more comprehensive reading nor discussion and contemplation. This fact reinforces our view that young people need to be taught the basics as early as possible – of history, political science, philosophy and civilization. In the absence of that grounding, all of these Twitter and Facebook bits alight on a population that lacks the tools to sort or analyze what they are reading while scrunched over their Androids. (Interesting word, Android; maybe in a thinly-veiled joke, it is meant to describe the hooked users and not the device...)

The technology of communications also democratizes news and opinion. Although this development may seem positive at first blush, it also has some powerful negative aspects. Whatever one thinks about the “mainstream” media’s biases, there is at least a set of standards and professional codes of conduct that are more or less followed by established media outlets. Writers are edited, and editors seek to protect franchises against irresponsible communications. Bloggers, by contrast, do not really have to adhere to any such constraints, and making them hew to any standards of professional responsibility is difficult at best. The “blogosphere” effectively makes the dissemination of news and opinion a kind of dense windy fog.

[We assume Singer does not consider Zero Hedge among the 'dense windy fog' of blogs given its readership rivals most mainstream media, but rather the meme-du-jour vox populi]

This overabundance of information and opinion is not a positive development in our view (although we are certainly not suggesting it be curtailed or controlled by governments). Ask yourself the following set of questions: Do people seem better informed today in the developed world? Smarter? Is the discourse more sophisticated? The answer is a resounding “no” to all those questions. Modern communication modalities play a role in this sad fact, and so does modern education, particularly higher education, which in too many cases has eschewed foundational course materials in favor of self-indulgent or ideological navel-gazing.

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One wonders whether social media (and perhaps the legalization of pot) is Huxley's Soma for the 21st Century... a nation of compliant robots numb to original thought.

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