Zygmunt Bauman on the trap of social media

I’m not convinced by Bauman on this topic (increasingly true of all his other topics as well) but some of our readers might find this interview interesting:

The question of identity has changed from being something you are born with to a task: you have to create your own community. But communities aren’t created, and you either have one or you don’t. What the social networks can create is a substitute. The difference between a community and a network is that you belong to a community, but a network belongs to you. You feel in control. You can add friends if you wish, you can delete them if you wish. You are in control of the important people to whom you relate. People feel a little better as a result, because loneliness, abandonment, is the great fear in our individualist age. But it’s so easy to add or remove friends on the internet that people fail to learn the real social skills, which you need when you go to the street, when you go to your workplace, where you find lots of people who you need to enter into sensible interaction with. Pope Francis, who is a great man, gave his first interview after being elected to Eugenio Scalfari, an Italian journalist who is also a self-proclaimed atheist. It was a sign: real dialogue isn’t about talking to people who believe the same things as you. Social media don’t teach us to dialogue because it is so easy to avoid controversy… But most people use social media not to unite, not to open their horizons wider, but on the contrary, to cut themselves a comfort zone where the only sounds they hear are the echoes of their own voice, where the only things they see are the reflections of their own face. Social media are very useful, they provide pleasure, but they are a trap.


Categories: Digital Sociology

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  1. I’m doing research around users of legal highs and online ‘communities’ at the moment, and I can see what Bauman is saying – especially in terms of social media ‘echo chambers’ – but conversely many of my participants simply cannot find a community (offline) to engage with others in their interests (trying novel substances, harm reduction), and so the online community formed ‘naturally’ online as like-minded individuals with similar interests, out of necessity, came together.

    I suppose this is the difference between this type of self-sustaining ‘organic’ community and the social media ‘network’ which is ready-made for you to recreate (or not) your existing offline or online communities: the latter facilitates existing communities by providing a digital network which you can control, edit and manipulate to your suiting. In a community that control is much less a conscious individual decision and very much a group decision or process. In this sense then, are social media networks both less ‘organic’ and less democratic than online or traditional offline communities?

    At any rate this has been an interesting aspect to consider in terms of my research, so thanks!

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