Andy Carvin’s post “An Open Letter About Cyberbullying” is a reasonably toned response to Mathew Honan of Wired Magazine’s recent article “Beware These Six Lamest Social Networks.” Honan takes unnecessary aim at the “Stop Cyberbullying” Ning which Andy helps administer. It’s sad to see a mainstream media source author take a potshot at an excellent resource and social network addressing a very REAL issue: Cyberbullying.
I have no idea what motivated Honan to assert via his article that cyberbullying is not a viable concern for millions of students and others around the world– and that a group working to promote awareness about cyberbullying as well as proactive steps which can be taken to address it is “lame.” According to Andy, the article has resulted in:
…countless vandals and trolls descend[ing] upon the site, for the sole purpose of – yes – bullying us…
This reminds me of observations Neil Postman made in the mid-1980s in his book “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.” Postman decried the loss of context and discourse which technology often invites. Although he was addressing a much older technology (the telegraph) instead of Internet-based social networking, I think his words still apply to us today. He wrote on page 65:
The telegraph made a three-pronged attack on typography’s definition of discourse, introducing on a large scale irrelevance, impotence, and incoherence. These demons of discourse were aroused by the fact that telegraphy gave a form of legitimacy to the idea of context-free information: that is; to the idea that the value of information need not be tied to any function it might serve in social and political decision-making and action, but may attach merely to its novelty, interest, and curiosity. The telegraph made information into a commodity, a “thing” that could be bought and sold irrespective of its uses or meaning.
Helping our students (and others) seek to identify the context of information is increasingly important in our twenty-first century attention economy. If the telegraph introduced “irrelevance, impotence, and incoherence” on a large scale, the Internet’s World-Wide Web has multiplied this effect a thousandfold. Context cannot often be understood in the blink of an eye, it takes some time to read, watch, listen, and reflect to understand. Hopefully Honan and others will take the time required to understand the context and purpose of the “Stop Cyberbullying” Ning. If they do, and they take time to understand the often hostile digital face of social networking today, perhaps they’ll take the higher road of working to promote the proactive cause of safe, respectful social networking rather than ridiculing it.
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