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Chester County Press

Editorial: Untouched, unaffected, unaltered

05/10/2022 10:09AM ● By Richard Gaw

Last week, a new gatekeeper for the widening spectrum of social media emerged.

In the amount of time it takes to order a burger from a fast food restaurant, Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, plunked down $44 billion – and assembled a group of 19 investors who pledged to invest another $7 billion – for the purchase of Twitter.

Musk promises to utilize the social media app as a “town hall” that will adhere to “free speech principles.” Not everyone is optimistic that Musk’s new toy will operate in the manner in which he says it will. While it serves as a source of information, Twitter has become a dumping ground for misinformation, verbal bludgeoning and takedowns, and now, with all of the constraints of decency and decorum removed, he or she with the most ferocious and foul posts will emerge the winner.

It will become the same savage and unrelenting noise that has come to swallow up our most precious moments and convert them to lost opportunity – only louder.

Given our daily submergence in the stultifying staccato of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and every other form of social media, it is now practically unimaginable to reconcile with the fact that at one time in our lives – even in our adult lives – we lived without any form of it. Our phones hung on a wall or remained at a desk, not permanently attached to our palms or wrapped around our wrists. We were quieter back then and in the most polite circles far more cordial and attentive. We wrote letters. We listened more. We took the effort to cultivate friendships in person, and we measured our value to others by their reciprocity, not in the number of “likesreceived. Our truest convictions were derived from the gravity of our experiences and influences, not from the incendiary trial balloon opinion of an online tweet.

We could aspire to make better use of these freedoms we have been handed. We could replace the sound-bite snippets of our lunacy with solid arguments and principled viewpoints. We have the capacity to use these tools to navigate among our converging and conflicting ideologies without spilling into easy categorizations and stereotypes. We could maneuver these tools in order to make a better society, but increasingly – with one pervasive and disgusting entry after another -- we have already proven to not be trusted with such technology.

With the click of a button and the spin of an index finger, we have become the self-anointed experts in the fields of politics, foreign relations, education, abortion rights, gay and transgender rights, shouting off our barbaric yawps like lions at the gate. To many, social media has become their bully pulpit -- and no stage is off limits to them, because they now have a camera and a keyboard.

It is the dream of many to become the jugglers and the clowns of their self-invention, gifted with the power to operate the ferocity and volume of their message, and now it is all theirs, and Musk’s purchase of Twitter will widen both their capacity to become the masters of their universe.

The philosopher Marshall McLuhan once described media as “pervasive in [its] personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected or unaltered.”

Social media is based on the principle that everyone should have the freedom to his or her megaphone, but there are way too many megaphones being used the wrong way, and we are all drowning in the cacophony, with no part of us left untouched, unaffected or unaltered.