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The Zuckerberg Revolution

Social media have increased the volume of our communications yet diminished the substance of them.

November 28, 2010|By Neal Gabler

That makes Zuckerberg the anti-Gutenberg. He has facilitated a typography in which complexity is all but impossible and meaninglessness reigns supreme. To the extent that ideas matter, we are no longer amusing ourselves to death. We are texting ourselves to death.

Ideas, of course, will survive, but more and more they will live at the margins of culture; more and more they will be a private reserve rather than a general fund. Meanwhile, everything at the cultural center militates against the sort of serious engagement that McLuhan described and that Postman celebrated.

McLuhan understood that print would eventually give way to electronic media, and that these new media would create his famous "global village," though it is nevertheless ironic that typography, which he thought engendered isolation, would in digital form lead to tens of millions of people calling themselves "friends."

Postman was more apocalyptic. He believed that a reading society was also a thinking society. No real reading, no real thought. Still, he couldn't have foreseen that a reading society in which print that was overwhelmingly seamless, informal, personal, short et al would be a society in which that kind of reading would force thought out — a society in which tens of millions of people feel compelled to tell tens of millions of other people that they are eating a sandwich or going to a movie or watching a TV show. So Zuckerberg's Revolution has a corollary that one might call Zuckerberg's Law: Empty communications drive out significant ones.

Gutenberg's Revolution left us with a world that was intellectually rich. Zuckerberg's portends one that is all thumbs and no brains.

Neal Gabler is at work on a biography of Edward M. Kennedy.

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