What's The General Effect Of Social Media?

by Conor Friedersdorf

Alan Jacobs thinks that is an incoherent question:

As I mentioned the other day, the Shirky/Doctorow thesis is that the internet in general and social media in particular tend to generate political freedom; the Evgeny Morozov thesis is that those media tend to enable governmental surveillance and control of protestors and dissidents.

My question is: why are we so determined to speak in these essentialist terms? Maybe the most significant change in my thinking over the past twenty years is a deepening suspicion of generalizations. “To Generalize is to be an Idiot,” wrote William Blake; “To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit.” The internet is new; social media are even newer; both are vastly dispersed throughout the global social order. Moreover, the internet is not just one thing, it’s ten million things; and different social media have different purposes, different architectures, different sets of users.

He argues that "the only way to make any progress in thinking about these matters is to 'Particularize' and to keep particularizing." That's pretty good advice for conversations about the news media too. We're all guilty of it sometimes, but any complain that starts, "The media is always doing x" should be suspect.