Turning inner space into outer space

January 18, 2012

Has social media reduced our conversation to a series of snarky remarks?

Yesterday, I chastised politicians for wasting an opportunity to engage with citizens via social media. The premier of British Columbia, for example, almost never talks about policy issues on her Facebook page.

But after thinking about it further, I began to wonder if social media actually encourages banality. Twitter, especially, with its 140-character limit, makes it almost impossible to have a serious discussion about anything. Even the most profound issues are often reduced to snarky remarks, snide asides and quick quips.

Facebook is a little better with its limit of 420 characters for status updates. But, again, if you’re looking to address a subject with any kind of complexity at all, you’re hooped. It’s no wonder people are reduced to talking about tips for cooking a turkey.

With this in mind, the demise of blogs, and the growing reluctance of bloggers to allow comments, may be one of the worst things to happen to the web. The conversation that the Internet was designed to encourage — first with science, then other subjects — is becoming more and more restricted.

In some ways it might be good that people who don’t have much to contribute have Facebook and Twitter as an outlet. But at the same time we need to see the expansion and popularization of systems that not only allow substantial debate but stimulate it.