A guardedly optimistic examination of the impact of social media suggests a reconsideration of its pros and cons.
With wit and curiosity, Cavanagh (Psychology/Assumption Coll.; The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom With the Science of Emotion, 2016, etc.) explores the notion that human beings are not so much solitary individuals as profoundly social creatures, perhaps, like honeybees, “at least partly a collective species.” And that's not a bad thing. We are born with the ability to tune into the feelings of others, and we develop that ability through the telling and, more recently, the reading or writing of stories, all of which makes us more likely to empathize with other human beings and members of other species rather than seeing them as “other.” Now, “with the advent of social media and smartphones,” writes the author, “we have an entire new medium through which we can connect, synchronize with, and influence one another.” Rather than isolating individuals, as popular opinion might suggest, social media gives us “an ever-present awareness of our friends and lovers moving through their separate real-life space, eating and creating and thinking and feeling.” Though Cavanagh doesn’t overlook the possibly detrimental effects of new media, which include political polarization and the proliferation of conspiracy theories, her general outlook is hopeful. She grounds her more abstract speculations in particular examples, from her experiences and those of others, in a way that makes her ideas easy for readers to grasp. She chronicles her discussions with beekeepers, a talk with a religious historian about zombies, a weekend with old friends, and the interactions of young women as they wait outside a hotel where someone has seen a pop star. After raising questions about forms of technology we take for granted, she offers sensible, workable suggestions as to how we can navigate the gap between the individual and the collective in everyday life.
An engaging new perspective on human networking.