April 3, 2017

Are safe spaces a reflection of our social media culture?

In an interview in El Pais, Polish born sociologist Zygmunt Bauman says social media are a trap.  He's talking about society-level problems that are evolving from social media.  Drilling down on one particular example of his argument, after watching this video it's tempting to draw the conclusion that safe spaces are a direct result of the isolating impact of social media of which he speaks. It's not even a long linguistic leap from "comfort zones" to "safe spaces" What else is social media doing to our culture?

In case you're not familiar with safe spaces, Geekfeminism has a description here.  But this video sums it up pretty well.

The real question is whether Safe Spaces become an accepted cultural norm or go the way of Ebonics.  Given the relatively early and appropriate backlash towards the self defeating fatuousness of safe spaces, my guess is the latter. But is ebonics really gone? After all, it's caught on in rap culture and the specific dialect (sorry, it's a version of English not a distinct language as some would claim. And it's an ersatz dialect at that), it has not expanded beyond that. It won't either and the reason is clear - economics. How many CEOs releasing quarterly results deliver their results in ebonics? How many bank branches can you walk into and transact in ebonics? For that matter, doing online banking, where is the option for ebonics? Professional athletes (from NASCAR to the NBA to the NFL) making millions of dollars may not always have the best grammar at all times, but they make an effort to speak in a telegenic manner. Ebonics is a dead end because failing to attempt to meet a minimum hurdle on societal norms is self defeating economically for an individual and pursuing that route, and those who do, do not develop the wherewithal to propagate the dialect to a broader spectrum of people.

Social media might change that - anyone can upload a video to Youtube if they have the means to create one. But that's only half the story. Unless Google decides to have ebonics videos consistently as trending hot videos, the audience is still limited and self contained. Now Google could decide as a social cause to do just that. I doubt they will, but if they did, it would be an artificial outside help to elevating ebonics, and such artificial support can at best be transitory. After all, the Google elite, if they are interesting in social engineering, have a plethora of such 'noble' causes to support.

The comparison is apt, because there has been a myriad of external support for safe spaces, from universities to media outlets. Just as there has been for the transgendered washroom issue. The problem for these absurdist endeavors is that not only does social media enable support for these bizarre causes, it also exposes them to criticism, some itself absurd, but much of it warranted. The social media window therefore is at best a double edged sword for safe spaces, social justice warriors and their ilk. It may enable them but it also alerts others to their latest inane ideas. Relative to safe spaces, the irony is that while social media has greatly isolated people from face to face human interaction, and enabled the idea of the need for safe spaces, the nature of social media (again without manipulation by social engineering by power brokers in the tech industry) is the opposite of a safe space. It is a window to differing ideas and a place where ideas can, and should, be challenged.

None of this controverts the ideas of Zygmunt Bauman as he relates to the differences between community and network.  You can create a social media bubble for yourself and in effect a social media safe space.  The same is not true for your ideas.  Ideas are not bound by limits of direct communication.  Once an idea is expressed it will travel by any means necessary, and once created can never be destroyed (a thousand years from now, if Marxism has been completely invalidated, it will still have its adherents). Ideas are therefore not bound by safe spaces (or personal networks).  While the idea of a safe space may thrive within a safe space network, it cannot progress further if the idea is soundly rejected by thoughtful counter-arguments.  But Zygmunt Bauman's point still holds true for individuals - you can create a bubble for yourself, a safe space.  His concern if I am interpreting correctly is that this ultimately detracts from the human experience and is detrimental to society as a whole if it becomes a pervasive condition, which it seems to be more and more.

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