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Spikes and swords and the misinformed

I am editing the 176th (!?) episode of Priključenija, a weekly podcast in Serbian that will be finishing up its 4th year in a few months, and I heard myself say in Serbian what I thought I had at some point written in English, but I’m searching the archive now and nope, never did.

What I meant to write, at some point, was this: for the most part, people — myself included — don’t use social networks to be informed; we go there to be entertained. We might tell ourselves that it is also a good way to get information about the world, the same way 30 years ago teens and adolescents would tell clueless surveyors that MTV was the main way they got their news. But let’s not kid ourselves: the reason we keep coming back is not for the authenticity, veracity, or timeliness of the news we get, but because of the entertainment value. The link is to Derek Kedziora’s blog, which I found through RSS club, which is mostly about things completely outside of my area of interest, but a few of the feeds there have really hit the spot and I now remember that I should update the blogroll.And we do like our entertainment!

The best way to “be informed” has for centuries now been, and continues to be, reading a book. There are, of course, many books with negative information value, but the medium at least allows for books that inform rather than entertain to be made. The second-best way to get information As opposed to “the news”, which is also mostly entertainment is YouTube, which is, if you squint, an extension of what we did before Gutenberg — oral tradition, learning by watching, etc. It is also another double-edged sword — there is so much more computer and human-generated dreck on YouTube than there are valuable videos — but a sword at least has two edges. Social networks aren’t swords, they are spikes, Intuition tells me that this is because of the minimal “package size” allowed in each medium, how interconnected they are, and how 99.5% ice cream mixed with 0.5% feces is still inedible… but I digress.with a single point of concentrated “infotainment” headed straight to your limbic system.

So I must have thought this obvious if I haven’t written about it explicitly, but apparently not. Back in the 2000s and early 2010s there may have been some question of the social network’s value in providing information. More than a decade later, we have our answer: it is zero at best, negative at worst, for any social network of sufficient size, and if you think that you are using one to “be informed” you are either fooling yourself or you are an idiot (and I know idiots don’t read this, so I feel comfortable writing it).

To be clear, there are other worthy goals of being on a social network. Socializing, for one! This is not a call to abandon anything, but a quick reality check and something to which I can point my non-idiot friends when the need arises.

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