The reversal of social media

Walking around in Amsterdam there are more and more coffee places, bars and restaurants that are actively proclaiming that they don’t want you to be there on your laptop or smart phone. There are special sections in these places where it is or isn’t allowed. Combine that with a growing supply of retreats without technology in nature (at least my timeline is filled with dozens of offers) and holidays without technology and you might conclude that we’ve had enough of technology and especially social media distracting us from a meaningful life. Social media is turning into ego-media and the only proper medicine for it is to turn it off completely, or so it seems. Welcome to the future…

The effects of technology on society

There’s a theory that nicely explains what is happening here: McLuhan’s Tetrad of Media Effects. McLuhan developed his theory to examine the effects of media on society. He wrote his tetrad as questions, but to go short, he argues that (new) technology enhances something, it makes (old) things obsolete, it retrieves something from the past and puts that right back center stage and then finally when the new technology is pushed to its extremes it reverses or flips in the opposite direction. You can find many examples plotted in these four quadrants online.

Social media making the social obsolete?

If you look at social media it first enhances our means of expressing ourselves to bigger audiences and allows us to have a connection with many more people than ever before. But at the same time, these connections happen more and more in a digital space. People are looking more at their smartphones than they are looking at each other (in any public space for that matter). And then pushed to its extreme it actually flips on its head. In the aforementioned coffee bars and restaurants you can observe something that can perhaps best be characterized as ego-media instead of social media.

Which leaves one open media effect: what does ‘social media’ retrieve from the past? Any thoughts or ideas on that? I’d be curious to find out what you think…