I have growing concerns about some aspects of our society. There are a number of worrying trends but at this stage I will try to elucidate only four of these.
I wonder if it might be my aging that makes me more disgruntled and dissatisfied. Have I become more conservative? Well that is probably true, but my conservatism is fuelled by a dissatisfaction with the way many things are trending.
No doubt as we get older we are more inclined to look favourably on the past and reflect on the “good old days”. Such nostalgia is fuelled by selective memory that seeks to reinforce the exaggerated benefits of the past and overlooks the disadvantages we encountered in living in such times. I have had a fortunate life and can look back fondly on many things, but I am sure I don’t look at the past through rose-coloured glasses.
We must acknowledge at least some aspects of human progress. For the first time in history infectious diseases kill fewer people than old age, famine kills fewer people than obesity and violence kills fewer people than accidents. So on many fronts our lives are improving. But it is hard not to harbour some concerns.
So let me begin be sharing with you some of my concerns, not in any particular order of primacy.
Australians have never been more dissatisfied with the political process. Researchers at the ANU analysing the 2016 election found record low levels of interest and record low levels of satisfaction with democracy and trust in government. About 75% of voters are disillusioned with politics.
There are so many things wrong with Australian politics it is hard to know where to begin my criticism – but let me assert that the voters are also part of the problem.
About 50% of Australians are net beneficiaries of government insofar as they benefit from more government payments than the taxes they pay. Consequently, when voting, they often are more motivated by the immediate personal benefit they receive than broader considerations in support of a better nation. Other cohorts of voters have their own sectional issues that politicians will ignore at their peril. It now seems par for the course that policy development must always ensure that no-one is made worse off. A key example of this was the Gonski Committee’s attempt to reconfigure education funding. But the terms of reference under the Gillard Labor government insisted no school should lose a single dollar as a result of the changes. Currently Scott Morrison’s efforts to make the GST distribution among the states more equitable is built on the same premise.
Politicians, who have career ambitions in politics are afraid to put such voters off-side and are consequently complicit in pursuing populist causes that might often be detrimental to national welfare.
Membership of political parties has been declining for decades. We often rightly make the point that Unions are no longer representative of the workforce because they directly represent such a small proportion of the workforce. Well political parties are even less representative. What’s more they are not very democratic so that the rank and file feel disempowered while the principal decisions the parties make are driven by the factions and power brokers which often results in such undemocratic practices as branch stacking.
Consequently those that are eventually elected to parliament are unrepresentative of the population at large. Labor members are now drawn almost exclusively from the ranks of unions and party organisers and advisers who often come out of university and go immediately into politics without any real experience beyond politics in the wider world. Whilst some Liberal members have real business experience many follow a similar career path as the career Labor politicians and, as we have recently seen, with fewer opportunities for women.
And when we look to political parties for inspiration for the future it is hard to find any. Labor’s current ambition is to drag us back to the 1960’s by reregulating the labour market and further empowering unions. They are determined to reinvigorate the class war and claim that they must fight increasing financial inequality for lower income groups when the best research suggests that wealth distribution is no worse and possibly better than it has been for decades.
As for the Liberal Party, they no longer know what they stand for. The outing of conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott in favour of the more liberal Malcolm Turnbull has created seemingly irreconcilable schisms in Liberal ideology. Turnbull has alienated the conservative base of the party some of whom have fled to Pauline Hanson or Cory Bernardi’s minor parties. It remains to be seen whether Scott Morrison’s more pragmatic approach can heal the rift sufficiently to make the Liberal Party competitive in an election, although there seem to be some optimistic early signs in this regard.
So the state of Australian politics is worrying and I have written about it in previous essays and even (idealistically) offered advice for improvement.
- Indigenous Affairs
Many of my readers will probably be surprised when I say most indigenous people in Australia are faring pretty well. Most have managed to integrate into Australian society, are being well educated often going on to tertiary education, managing their families and their finances adequately, and are, in general, law abiding.
Yet we hardly hear much about the success story of indigenous people. Our attention is continually drawn to those in remote communities and some enclaves in our cities where the outcomes are very different. In these places there are appalling rates of domestic violence, child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, lawlessness and incarceration, poor school attendance, and abysmal health outcomes.
We could look to indigenous history to try to understand why we still have a significant indigenous underclass. And certainly that provides some basis of understanding but indigenous history is recounted and interpreted differently by many.
It is true that the original inhabitants of Australia were dispossessed of their traditional lands. It is also true there was a deal of violence propagated against them. But many indigenous people have got on with their lives and not allowed the indignities bestowed upon their ancestors by the “invaders” generations ago to prevent them having a meaningful place in modern Australian society.
In the early twentieth century, many indigenous Australians were struggling against entrenched racism and cultural and economic disadvantage. Indigenous people had been subject to removal of children in their care to be placed in the care of “white” families. This resulted in what was called “the stolen generation”. Whilst some of the relocated children doubtlessly benefitted from this gross intervention, it caused great angst to indigenous families and is reflective of the paternalistic treatment often meted out to the indigenous population in those times.
It is hard to deny that removal of children from their biological families, however well-intentioned, would have been traumatic for many of the children, their parents and siblings. But now, generations later, this intervention is still being blamed for indigenous dysfunction.
Another major factor facilitating indigenous dysfunction has been the establishment of the remote communities.
Herbert Cole “Nugget” Coombs was a very distinguished Australian. In 1949, Labor Prime Minister, Ben Chifley appointed Coombs to be Governor of the Commonwealth Bank. When later that year Menzies led the conservatives to power, to the surprise of many, he kept Coombs on. In 1960, when the Reserve Bank was created to take on the central banking functions, Menzies appointed Coombs as its first Governor.
Coombs retired from the Public Service in 1968 but maintained an active interest in the Arts and more particularly in Aboriginal Affairs.
Coombs early life was in Western Australia where he had engaged with the Aboriginal community and became concerned for their welfare. This developed into a lifelong passion for him.
In 1968 he was appointed the Chairman of the Australian Council for Aboriginal Affairs which was set up essentially to prosecute the changes which were brought about by the 1967 Referendum which recognised the citizenship of Aboriginals. He subsequently became a close advisor to Gough Whitlam who was then leading the Labor party. It is said that he essentially wrote the Labor Party’s policy on Aboriginal Affairs which it took to the 1972 election which it won, ensconcing Whitlam as Prime Minister.
Coombs opened the 1968 Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. In his speech he assured those present that the Council he chaired would “strengthen the sense of Aboriginal Australians as a distinctive group within our society, with a distinctive contribution to make to the quality of our national life.” This, obviously, was at odds with the views of the Liberal Country Party Government that was espousing assimilation. Coombs also championed the proposition that indigenous people should be able to be repatriated to their traditional tribal lands. He supported the establishment of remote aboriginal communities and had a romantic notion that they would thrive if allowed to take up more traditional lifestyles.
As a consequence of Coomb’s recommendations the Government of the day facilitated the establishment of remote Aboriginal communities, ostensibly to return indigenous people to their homelands where they were expected to hone a living from traditional foraging and hunting augmented by commerce associated with traditional art and culture and hopefully, tourism. The Government provided generous economic support of such communities in anticipation that they would eventually become self-sufficient.
But of course these communities still only exist today as a result of Government sponsorship. And it is in these communities that the worst disadvantage occurs in terms of health, education, lawlessness and social dysfunction.
Now white Australians, as a result of the “stolen generation” history, have acquired a sense of guilt regarding the treatment of indigenous people and have overcompensated in ways that have proved unhelpful.
In the wake of all this we have sought to glorify “aboriginal culture”. Now the utility of aboriginal culture in the past cannot be denied insofar as it contributed to the survival of indigenous people for countless millennia in an unforgiving and often hostile environment. But what proved useful in those circumstances is not helpful at all in coping with the demands of 21st century Australia.
What’s more, what often passes as Aboriginal culture has been confected in relatively recent times. And since the dominant theme of Aboriginal culture is its patriarchy, the welfare of women and children are put at risk.
The guilt we assumed from this historical conflict between indigenous and mainstream cultures has resulted in laws that seem to place the preservation of Aboriginal culture ahead of the welfare of indigenous women and children. And our continuing indulgence of Aboriginal culture allows the continuing existence of the remote communities that are sapping the life out of the indigenous people that reside there, whilst their counterparts in the cities are taking a meaningful role in mainstream society.
Meanwhile the activists in the Aboriginal Industry are encouraging indigenous people to embrace victimhood and eschew personal responsibility. They complain about how terrible the plight of indigenous people is and urge more government spending, which of course benefits the Aboriginal Industry. Yet one thing we can be assured of is that doing more of the same is going to get us nowhere.
We need in the scheme of things to get our priorities right. All peoples have a need to make sense of their lives by understanding who they are and where they came from. Australia’s indigenous peoples are no different. But, I reiterate, we need to get the priorities right.
The preservation of cultural traditions (particularly when some are quite dubious) should never be promoted at the expense of:
- Accepting personal responsibility (rather than reverting to victimhood)
- Threatening the welfare of women and children (rather than promoting patriarchy)
- Providing indigenous children with an education to cope with a modern society and a modern economy (rather than providing cultural based excuses for avoiding mainstream education)
But it is hard not to despair! Sure there is still racism in Australia – but you have to look hard to find it. But the resort to identity politics of some indigenous people, where they feel so insecure that the only thing that they can cling to in order to gain some sort of self-esteem is their biological history, over which they had no choice, is a great concern.
When we talk about education, most of us immediately think of the activity of schools and universities. And it is worth bearing in mind in this limited version of education Australia is not faring too well. But of course education is a far broader concept than that and consequential learning takes place in the home, in the workplace, on the playing field and many other spheres of life.
The educational attainments of our children from traditional schooling have been waning for some time compared to other countries. This is despite of huge increases in government funding of our schools.
And our universities, in trying to promote university education as an important export commodity, and striving to meet unrealistic government aspirations to ensure that most who graduate from high school will go on to gain a university qualification, have been “dumbing down” course content and relaxing entrance requirements for those aspiring to go to university.
Unsurprisingly, being a university graduate no longer opens as many doors to employment as it used to, with many graduates subsequently accepting employment offers into jobs that don’t use their qualifications.
Bryan Caplan, professor of economics at George Mason University, wrote the controversial book, The Case against Education; Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money.
Caplan’s thesis is that most of what we learn in the traditional education system is irrelevant. Much of the subject material, apart from basic literacy and numeracy, is of little use in a practical sense. Further, most students spend a lot of time in lessons bored and often disengaged.
Caplan believes that the principal function of education is to signal to prospective employers the employability of young people. Succeeding at school and university, he argues, merely indicates that the student is:
- Conscientious, and
He maintains these are the prime qualities employers desire in young people as employees. Further, if this is what education is about, much of what is taught and done in schools and universities is irrelevant and wasteful.
I have always maintained that what I have learnt that is most important to me, I have learnt outside formal education. But this is somewhat unfair, because without a reasonable education to build on, such learning would have been much harder and far less likely.
But whilst the more utilitarian of us like to emphasise the importance of education providing vocational skills attractive to employers, surely education has a broader function than that? An education that helped us understand who we are and where we came from would surely help us be better citizens. (Unfortunately one initiative to help us achieve this promoted by the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation is being resisted by some universities on the basis of political correctness!)
We would like to think that our education is a preparation for life. But that is getting to be a more difficult assignment. With increasing longevity, many who will be born in this decade could reasonably expect to live to be 100 years old. And we might be somewhat befuddled as how to prepare them for such a life. We can hardly imagine what the world might be like in the 22nd century.
As Jewish academic and author Yuval Noah Harari enigmatically writes:
If somebody describes to you the world of the mid twenty-first century and it sounds like science fiction, it is probably false. But then if somebody describes to you the world of the mid twenty-first century and it doesn’t sound like science fiction – it is certainly false.
Because we can’t anticipate the skills that will best equip humans for futures we can hardly envisage, it becomes more important to prepare their minds to be adaptable and have the capacity for life-long learning. And expanding on my earlier theme, we need to embrace the idea that much significant learning takes place outside formal education institutions.
A lot of that learning (as I shall soon argue) will be experiential and self-directed. Our learning capacity will be greatly diminished unless we have basic numeracy and literacy skills. These are fundamental and our schools should ensure our children are well-equipped in this regard.
If you doubt the efficacy of experiential learning, just observe the way your children and grandchildren learn how to use computer software or how to play the latest digital game!
But we will now have to look differently at a human life. Traditionally we have divided a human life into two basic components – initially learning and later working. And many of us were naïve enough to assume that the learning (and qualifications) we acquired in our youth would be sufficient to equip us until retirement. That notion is patently wrong. In order to maintain our employability and be able to make significant contributions to society we will be required to continually update our skills or indeed, acquire very different skill sets. Most professions, even today, insist that maintaining our professional credentials requires ongoing learning. Such demands can only increase.
In earlier times, in an attempt to provide career paths in the enterprises I managed based on skills acquisition, I did a lot of work with competency based training. At that time I became familiar with the works of Malcolm Knowles in adult education. Knowles argued that the learning that engaged adults most was the learning that they immediately were required to exercise. People learn best when there is an obvious and immediate need to know. Education undertaken because of some future likely need is never assimilated as well as where this is an imminent need for skills and knowledge. What’s more, skills learnt in actual application provided greater satisfaction and utility than theoretical learning. Consequently we need to focus more on experiential learning.
Although Knowles field was adult learning (andragogy), I have no doubt that this principle is just as applicable to the learning of our children (pedagogy). Being able to see the direct and immediate benefits of learning makes learning easier.
Some of the best graduates I ever employed were engineering students from Central Queensland University. Integrated into their courses were a number of six month placements in industry where they could apply what they had learnt in their courses. When they graduated they were immediately useful in their workplaces.
But I can’t leave this topic without some further comments on schooling. Over the last couple of decades we have committed more and more funding to schools with dwindling results. Much of the funding has been directed at reducing class sizes but research has shown this has but little impact on educational outcomes. But of course it is a favoured strategy for education unions because it increases their membership.
International research indicates that the quality and status of teachers is far more important in getting good outcomes from schools. Unsurprisingly the best teachers have good behavioural management strategies. Our schools suffer greatly from poor parenting practices. This results in children coming into schools often with an undue sense of entitlement and little respect for adults, let alone teachers. Teachers are disempowered, often assaulted by pupils and their parents. Whereas it is important for our teachers to be well-credentialed and respected in the community, in many cases they are not. One factor contributing to this lack of respect is that many teaching degrees allow entrance to student teachers with quite poor secondary schooling outcomes. Another factor impeding our teachers from learning how to teach is the tendency to cram their courses with political correctness embracing identity politics, and emphasising the victimhood of minorities. Teachers have greatly reduced tools to enforce discipline in the modern classroom. Consequently they must rely more on their skills to engage students and manage poor behaviour.
And with the development of the internet, we see another phenomenon arising. In days gone by teachers had to be subject-matter experts. We looked up to our teachers because they were a “font of knowledge”. But in today’s world, the teacher can’t compete with the internet as a source of knowledge. Particularly in the “soft sciences”, a student can never be certain that what the teacher is putting forward is timeless wisdom or outdated bias. This has two major impacts on teaching. Firstly, the respect and authority a teacher once gained for being a subject-matter expert has vastly declined. Secondly, it means a successful teacher must rely more and more on his/her ability to impart knowledge. Subject matter expertise, while still useful, is not nearly as important as the skills to engage students and impart knowledge. It is important to understand that no significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.
I am all for paying teachers more and affording them greater status in our society but only on the basis they acquire those necessary skills. And if teaching is to become a well-esteemed profession again in our society it is concomitant that, despite the resistance of teachers’ unions, poor performers must be weeded out before they indelibly mar the education of our children and there should be rewards for those who get the best educational outcomes.
Education is still largely a linear development of those being educated. First we need to teach the basics of reading, writing and mathematics. This is facilitated when children have the discipline to sit, pay attention and absorb the learning provided. As well their imaginations have to be stimulated. Einstein purportedly said:
If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy stories. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy stories!
Neurological studies show that children can’t manage abstract concepts until they are seven or eight years old. (This highlights the futility of arguing with young children!) But over a decade and a half of education, when they enter university, ideally students should have acquired the wherewithal to make rational decisions between alternatives and have the maturity to hold conflicting ideas in their minds.
Recent events in our universities show that in this respect our educational processes are failing. Our young people in these institutions are in fact being shielded from ideas that might challenge them. Universities create “safe places” to prevent these fragile souls from having to confront those different to them. They use “trigger warnings” in their literature to prevent them from reading, unaware, opinions that might conflict with their own. And worst of all they contrive to ensure guest speakers are not allowed on their campuses whose opinions might challenge them or if they can’t prevent them from turning up on campus they shout them down so that the dissenting voices can’t be heard. Surprisingly some of the activists even maintain they take this action in support of free speech!
Harvard University Professor, Steven Pinker, writes:
No one is omniscient or infallible, so a willingness to evaluate new ideas is vital to understanding our world. Yet universities which ought to be forums for open debate are developing a reputation for dogmatism and intolerance.
The two reasons it appears to me that young university students seem unwilling to counter ideas with which they disagree with reasoned argument, but instead wish to silence them are:
- Incapacity to mount counter arguments which is an indictment of either their academic training or their intellect, or perhaps
- Lack of moral courage where it is easier to fall in line with your peer group rather than to come to your own reasoned position. When identity politics or political correctness determine what you think, you have jettisoned your intellectual freedom. Remember that questions you cannot answer stimulate your learning better than answers you cannot question!
If we allow this to continue then our universities will no longer be the forums for testing and developing ideas but become the ongoing perpetrators of ideas that haven’t been challenged and will most likely be in error. (Perhaps in another essay I will give you examples.)
- Social Technology and Society
A recurring theme in human history is the reflection of mankind’s intellect and creativity in technological development and the consequent impacts of that technology on human society.
A wonderful example is the development of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg. This facilitated mass publication of pamphlets and books which informed the public and aided in their education.
Or the development of the steam engine which presaged the industrial revolution. This resulted in wholesale changes to demographics as populations moved from rural areas into cities. The ability to use the power of coal and steam rather than of men and animals enabled the mass production of many goods making them more available to the population at large.
It is fair to say that most significant technological change is disruptive and end up irrevocably changing our society. There are many related stories that could be told. But now, in the 21st century we seem to be on the cusp of something far more disruptive than we have seen before. My chosen example for this essay is the burgeoning rise of social technologies. (I could, just as easily chosen Artificial Intelligence or Big Data. These will certainly prove disruptive, and perhaps vastly more so, but most of my readers will be more familiar with Digital Social Technologies and I have confined myself to that topic.)
As I have written elsewhere, human beings have four basic sets of needs that must be met if we are to thrive, viz:
- Physical Needs
- Social Needs
- Intellectual Needs
- Spiritual Needs
It seems to me that we must now be very careful of the impact of technology on our social needs. Man is a social animal and our social relationships are most important to our sense of well-being.
As I explained in a recent essay, for most of our evolutionary history humans have existed in close-knit tribes of perhaps no more than a couple of dozen people. Intimate relationships are important to us. By and large we still have the need to ground ourselves in intimate communities. Unfortunately over the last two centuries or so, such intimate communities have been disintegrating. This impact has been exacerbated by the development of social media technologies.
Facebook, for example, allows us to connect with hundreds of people. But most of our “friends” on Facebook we hardly really know. Sharing a few photos with such “friends” or indulging in a little trivial banter with them can hardly replace a hug or a meaningful discussion over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. As a result, in a more connected planet, people are living ever more lonely lives.
What’s more the technology has other sinister impacts. Sociologist and author, Hugh Mackay, writes:
Technology connects us like never before, but it makes it easier than ever to stay apart from each other. And though we’re all in favour of sharing, we are now discovering there is such a thing as oversharing – not just the relentless flow of data we send each other on our devices, but the torrents of data our devices are sending to unknown other (let’s call them ‘UO’s), mostly without our knowledge or permission.
We are attracted to social media because it is easy to access and opens doors for communicating with others and providing (sometimes dubious) data and all for free! But it is monopolised by a couple of behemoths. In 2016 Facebook and Google accounted for 99% of the increase in revenue from online advertising. Draining the advertising dollar from traditional media has rendered it vulnerable and as a result we are seeing it struggle for long term survival.
The data that these technologies compile about you enable them to connect you with like-minded people and specifically target their advertising. As their platforms developed, Facebook and Twitter, have overtaken traditional media and blogs as the preferred source of news and opinion.
Emily Jane Bell is a British academic and journalist. She is Professor of Professional Practice at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. In an article published in the Columbia Journalism Review she had this to say:
Social media hasn’t just swallowed journalism, it has swallowed everything. It has swallowed political campaigns, banking systems, personal histories, the leisure industry, retail, even government and security. The phone in our pocket is our portal to the world. I think in many ways this heralds enormously exciting opportunities for education, information and connection, but it brings with it a host of contingent existential risks.
So one of the lessons to be learnt here is, that while online communities are wonderful for data sharing, there’s more to relationships, and more to communal living, than data sharing and even that data sharing has its dangers. To meet our social needs we need to be nurtured by the experience of engaging with the lives and sharing the joys and the pains, the intimacy and touch of people around us. But more than that, the pervasive influence of social media is affecting both our commercial and political choices. Gavin Mueller, from the University of Amsterdam notes:
The internet, which not so long ago was viewed as having helped elect the US’s first black president and spread democratic revolutions around the world, is now blamed with stoking the flames of dangerous right wing populism.
There is no doubt that social media is impacting on our politics. Whether we believe the outcome is positive or negative depends on the viewpoint of the observer (as Mueller’s quote suggests.)!
With the incessant politicisation of social media, participants are inevitably drawn out of local concerns. So if you are a resident in Fitzroy in Melbourne you are more likely to focus your attention on blocking the Adani coal mine in central Queensland than you are to doing something about the homeless in your own suburb.
One of the edicts of the Christianity from the New Testament is to “love your neighbours”. But that is becoming increasingly difficult because, more likely than not, you don’t know your neighbours! Social technology is distracting us to take up positions on populist agendas that have little to do with our local community. In the meantime many feel alienated even to the extent of taking their own lives.
We have made the mistake of believing that we have created substantial social relationship by creating screen contact with others, ignoring the fact that most of us are crying out for eye contact! We are more interested in what is happening in cyberspace than what is happening down the street. Social technologies are so ubiquitous and intrusive that they are impeding normal human relationships.
My wife and I went out to dinner one night and noticed a young couple close by. After their orders were taken, they spoke not one word to each other but were both engrossed in their i-phones until their food arrived!
Yuval Noah Harari, whom I quoted earlier, makes the point that:
Ideally, building communities should not be a zero-sum game. Humans can be loyal to different groups at the same time. Unfortunately, intimate relations probably are a zero-sum game. Beyond a certain point, the time and energy you spend on getting to know your on-line friends from Iran or Nigeria will come at the expense of your ability to know your next-door neighbours.
I have a son with an intellectual disability. He has a partner also with an intellectual disability. They don’t read the newspapers. They don’t listen to the news on radio and they don’t watch the news on TV. For them, everything they are told on Facebook is apparently the gospel truth and can’t be questioned. Yet we know, even before Donald Trump’s bluster, that much of what goes on Facebook is concocted to promote sectional interests, and is amplified by the inevitable echo chamber effect.
Although not everyone uses it this way, Facebook is the ultimate showpiece for narcissists. Some people spend countless hours constructing and embellishing a perfect self on-line. Over time some even apparently mistake it for the truth. But much of what they display on-line is trite and outlines petty highlights of their lives. That marvellous meal we had, that glorious vista we experienced, the rock concert we attended, a lovely picture of an indulged child or a pampered pet all serve to show what a special person I am. But this is just a sketchy idealised picture of the way I would like the world to see me. If you wish to understand who I am, you would be ill-advised to put much credence on my Facebook profile. Such self-deception can only lead to suffering.
As I have stated many times in my blog essays, the good Dr Phil has taught me that no one is special. Everyone’s story is interesting! It is our own egos that make that hard to see as we seek to promote ourselves.
But the main theme I wanted to share with you is the major assault social media is causing to our social lives. We seem to be more concerned with how many Facebook “friends” we have than the depth of our human connections with others. This disconnect, for example, makes cyber–bullying so prevalent. Without human contact it is far easier to treat someone who is the recipient of a bullying Facebook post, or indeed even an e-mail, as an object rather than a human being. As a result we have seen some of the more vulnerable among us being harassed and insulted to the extent that they are motivated to take their own lives.
These trends are more than likely to continue and probably get worse. What should we do about it? Well I think it is futile to believe that we can shelter people from social media. My response, which I have reiterated many times in the past, is that we need to work on people’s resilience rather than shield them from offence. Now I have written many essays on this topic and suggest if you want to pursue this avenue refer to them.
But it might help us if we were to use social media judiciously. Let’s take Facebook as an exemplar. I use Facebook sparingly, but it is a useful tool for keeping up with some of my friends and family I seldom see. I enjoy getting to know about the latest things happening in their lives, the pictures of their children and pets and being able to share a joke with them.
I would never resort to Facebook however for opinions on current affairs or politics. There is never reasoned debate on such things but mainly people with similar opinions propagating issues with like-minded people who shy away from alternative views.
Surprisingly, I must confess that I have never been attacked on Facebook or e-mail (although because of my controversial views I have frequently been challenged). And of course I have the advantage over many others that I can’t be offended and I don’t need to be loved by everybody. It is more important to my sense of integrity that I should describe the world as I see it even if that might offend some. I don’t set out to cause offense, and I wish ill of no one, but I have an obligation to tell the truth as I see it.
But in summary I see social media as:
- Distracting people from having more meaningful, human relations.
- Propagating false ideas that largely go unchallenged.
- Providing a platform for bullying vulnerable people.
- Diverting people from the more substantive issues in their lives.
- With some subterfuge, manipulating social, commercial and political outcomes.
I am happy to hasten to add, as I have outlined earlier, that social media does add some positives to our society, but we must also acknowledge the downsides it brings.
One of the dangers that we confront is that social media seems destined to be dominated by a few major players. As soon as start-ups achieve anything significant in this space they are bought out by the majors. The barriers to entry are unreasonably high not only because of the technology barriers but also the huge data bases the major player now hold on their users and everything about them.
Well that’s the end of my ranting for the time being!
As I finish writing my essay, word has come in that The Government has lost the Wentworth by-election and the coalition must struggle on with a minority government. There will be the usual displays of triumphalism by left-wing journalists and in particular the ABC. But the real tragedy is that most Australians will hardly notice and most won’t care. And that is largely true for the other areas for concern I have raised. Most of us are content to be passive players as history unfolds which ultimately puts at risk our democracy and the major institutions that underpin it.