Will social media end society as we know it?

For humans to exist as a society there must be harmony among people even when they disagree on most topics.…

Will social media end society as we know it?

[Representational Photo : iStock]

For humans to exist as a society there must be harmony among people even when they disagree on most topics. At the very least there must be laws to ensure peaceful co-existence and enforcement of those laws including appropriate punishments for violators.

Next in order of priorities come trade, infrastructure, education, employment opportunities, healthcare, etc. The key to achieving this harmony is for every member of society to behave in a civilized way and that means being diplomatic and careful in what one says. We human beings are continually thinking of something every moment, both good and bad. It can be driven by our senses such as thoughts of food, music, physical pleasure, etc. or spiritual thoughts. It can be driven by envy, joy, sadness and worry for loved ones.

However, we cannot express every one of those thoughts to others because such sharing can not only reveal who we really are but can also lead to unpleasant situations or unnecessary distractions. Our society is almost like a circus where we perform like trained animals and control our natural instincts. We are trained to be polite, inoffensive, in control of our emotions, wellgroomed and clean in public appearance, soft-spoken in our conversations and to think before we open our mouths.


Any kind of physical altercation is forbidden even when the other person is saying something that is insulting or provocative. If one does not like circus animals and really wants to see how animals behave one must go to the jungle where they roam free following their instincts.

They fiercely protect their territories, hunt other animals for food, kill other animals if threatened and the air is full of their roars and growling. There are no forces to control them. Human beings might become just like those animals if they do not follow the protocol of society. In fact, primitive human species were just like animals before they gradually became “social”. With the advances in technology, especially telecommunications, came social media.

The technology itself is mind-boggling. A small hand-held device, called a smartphone, provides the entire universe at one’s fingertip. It is not just a phone, but a device to store a telephone directory, to transmit video and photos, to communicate in writing (texting), to provide a portal for the internet and also a camera, an alarm clock with timer, an electronic key, a gaming machine, a calculator, a weather gauge, a GPS navigator; it can probably do a host of other functions I do not even know.

Among numerous conveniences a smartphone offers is the possibility of interacting with a group of people one knows – either large or small – individually or in a simultaneous group communication; furthermore, such communications can be done almost instantaneously. There is no need to log on to a computer, look for email addresses or phone numbers or wait for some other tasks. Finally, one can use an alias and remain anonymous to protect one’s privacy. Facebook was my first experience in social media. Initially, it was exciting to find long-lost friends and relatives and re-establish connections with them, including exchanging photos after years if not decades.

There was also a temptation to see how large a group of friends I could establish and how many would respond favourably to my posts. Perhaps I had a hidden desire to be popular. After a while I realized that there were not a whole lot of commonalities in my life with the lives of my Facebook friends and not much to talk about because lives have progressed along different paths and people also change with time. While I temporarily enjoyed the nostalgia, I inadvertently disclosed lots of information about my personal life to not just my friends but also to Mark Zuckerberg and the company. I got out of Facebook. I never developed any interest in Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat, Tik Tok and all other such means of social interaction.

I gradually became aware of the detrimental effects of social media on people, especially young kids. The main problem is that one can write one’s deepest thoughts about any given subject. One does not need to think about it too much. It is addictive and hence disruptive because it takes one away from useful tasks. While it can be used to organize a team for a good cause, it can also be used for organizing destructive activities such as protests, riots, bullying and criminal activities. An idle mind is the Devil’s workshop.

It can be dangerous to young kids both emotionally and physically. One can be exposed to the dark side. They can try daring acts for the sake of publicity and popularity which can lead to injury and death. Addiction to social media can lead to isolation and social awkwardness because kids may find interaction through social media more enjoyable than personal communications. Secondly, social media allows people to express their intimate thoughts on any topic instantaneously to everyone in the world without much thought about the consequences. The results could be destructive. Some people can get offended and angry; the resulting animosity can destroy long-term friendships.

Family secrets might be revealed resulting in embarrassment if nothing else. Gossip, conspiracy theories and misinformation can spread and become “viral”, affecting a large portion of the population. Postings filled with hatred about race, sexual preference or political affiliation can lead to bad feelings if not violent behavior. The reason so many people came to hate Donald Trump was his tendency to tweet his raw innermost emotions almost on a daily basis without taking time to think about how his comments would impact all people and not just his base.

Social media can also be used directly for anti-social purposes; for example, a recent trend is to post antimarriage messages and memes advocating all the benefits of single life. Unlike other means of communication in the past, there is a sense of empowerment among users of social media because they believe that they can hide behind aliases. As a result, nothing is sacred or off-limit. Social media also encourages an easy path to popularity and fame and has led to the concept of “influencers” who can also earn big money depending on their activities and how many followers they have. Unlike verbal comments over the phone, any message on social media is permanently recorded; they can be deleted but leave an electronic track behind.

Furthermore, one has no control over messages once they have been communicated and the receptors can relay them to any number of people all over the world. Not only personal financial and health information but politically sensitive information or even national security secrets can inadvertently leak out, providing hackers with a gold mine. Dominance of social media will make society less friendly and more confrontational; more preoccupied with conspiracy theories and misinformation. This might be the beginning of the end of human society as we know it. However, I do not think that humans will go back to being animals.

The grand finale would be for AI to take over because every communication would be documented and electronically traceable, which AI can process in milliseconds. AI will know how everyone thinks and feels. We will just pretend to live in a make-believe society which will no longer be in our control.

(The writer, a physicist who worked in industry and academia, is a Bengali settled in America.)