Has social media changed what it means to be human?
A review by : Qais Qazaz
With every new major innovation there have been those who have claimed that as a result we have lost some part of our essential humanity. The Greek philosopher Plato suggested that with the invention of writing humanity lost a skill in the use of memory that was an essential part of being human.
Social media is just the latest technology to provoke these accusations. There are many version of this idea that social media represents a loss of humanity. For example, the suggestion that we how have a reduced attention span or that we are now so screen focused that we have lost our capacity for face to face interactions. We also sometimes hear the opposite response. Instead of humanity losing some essential quality, new technologies are seen as extending our capacities, resulting in us becoming some kind of trans-human or post-human being. Either way the ideas is that something about our essential humanity has changed.
But usually, after a while, most people come to accept that what were once new technologies have become simply a taken for granted aspect of ordinary life. We do not see a person driving a car as either having lost an aspect of their humanity, or as some amazing post-human machine hybrid.
Maybe the problem is with our idea of what being human is?
We tend to operate with a generally conservative conception, i.e. being human is just what human beings have been in the past, or up till now.
In response to this we propose ‘A Theory of Attainment’. This suggests a re-definition of what it means to be human, which includes all the things we have the capacity to be in the future. So a new technology simply allows us to attain something of that capacity. But it was already latent in merely being human.
So social media, along with other new digital technologies, extends what we can do as human beings, both as new forms of communication and or becoming a new space within which we live and socialise. But using this Theory of Attainment we can acknowledge that it makes no difference at all to simply being human.