February 19, 2014

"Likes": We have met the enemy, and he is B.F. Skinner, social media guru

After watching "Generation Like" on PBS's Frontline last night, I am firmly convinced that many people in the US (and probably the developed world in general, to a degree), and especially our youth, from a mix of parental negletct and parental helicopter parenting, have made themselves into the pigeons and rats of B.F. Skinner's operant conditioning boxes, with the Internet in general and social media in particular, as the box.

Why?

In part, it's another attempt, along with conservatives pushing the idea of "we're all entrepreneurs," to still grasp at the mythical brass ring of American upward mobility, for adults.

Also, for adults, I think it's an attempt to deal with an increasingly depersonalized nation of nearly 315 million people.

But, that's only adults.

On the children's side, parents are willingly encouraging this, in many cases, as part of the further fallout of the largely disproven self-esteem movement. Well, helicopter moms, not only is Junior or Juniorette's first college prof not going to hand out a guaranteed A, he or she isn't going to put a blue thumbs-up "like" on the first term paper. Nor is he or she likely to ask you to re-Tweet his or her university webpage. And, while some do care, especially if they have tenure, most profs ignore "Rate My Professor," I'm sure. What I said above, helicopter moms (and gunship dads, or whatever), goes in spades for the kiddo's first real-world job.

"Likes" are like Bitcoins, in that way: A fancy concept, but trading in a very narrow, very narcissistic world.

Second, which Rushkoff hinted at, but could have developed more, is the manipulative effect that the world of "likes" develops in many of these Internet like-stars (and yes, that's a riff on porn stars). Greed for free products and more. Meanwhile, hoping to have them hooked as low-rent advertisers, big companies pass out the free products. Arguably, it's some of the best pure, unadulterated, high-grade hypercapitalism around. And, the question is, who's more manipulator and who's more manipulated?

It's probably still the business side, not the kiddies' side.

Advertisers and public relations flaks have been trying to manipulate the public for decades. And today's marketing gurus may just have figured out how to use social media to hijack the lust for fame and celebrity, per a Facebook friend.

Back to the first main issue on the kids' side. What happens at age 25 when Junior doesn't get the job or promotion he/she wants? Does Junior start a "like" crusade to try to get that promotion? Act so narcissistically as to flame the would-be new company on Junior's own Tumblr as well as the company 's Facebook page? In many cases, the answer probably is yes. A couple of kids admitted in various ways they have no off switch on their online "mouths" and no filters.

Some of that is true about kids in general, but, in the past, if kids didn't do this themselves, society did it for them in some way. In turn, that makes me wonder about the rise of things such as ADD and ADHD. How much is this an actual rise, and how much of it, not to be too curmudgeonly or believe everything was better in the good old days, is a slipping of society?

Rushkoff had plenty of room to dig deeper, and he's got the chops to do so. I can only hope Frontline will come out with a part 2.

Anyway, while we may be experimenting on ourselves, or at least some of us are, like Skinner's pigeons and rats, we're not pigeons and rats, and the results could be far more disastrous.

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