Social networking sites are the primary form of communication among young people, and they are supplanting print, which is where ideas have typically gestated. For another, social networking sites engender habits of mind that are inimical to the kind of deliberate discourse that gives rise to ideas. Instead of theories, hypotheses and grand arguments, we get instant 140-character tweets about eating a sandwich or watching a TV show. While social networking may enlarge one’s circle and even introduce one to strangers, this is not the same thing as enlarging one’s intellectual universe. Indeed, the gab of social networking tends to shrink one’s universe to oneself and one’s friends, while thoughts organized in words, whether online or on the page, enlarge one’s focus.
Why do people keep saying stupid, stupid stuff like this? Do they really believe that there are people out there who would be producing ground-breaking scientific hypotheses and incisive critiques of pure reason if they weren’t constantly being distracted by Facebook updates and lolcats? Do they truly believe that Twitter is depriving us of Einsteins? “Albert, you need work work on your general theory of relativity.” “Yeah, I know, but hang on — I’ve got to tell my tweeps about this fabulous schnitzel.”