Here we are in the early years of the 21st century. It’s a setting saturated with social media. Some of those outlets I can think of off the top of my head are Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, LinkedIn and more. The existence of these social outlets has allowed for people to become quite popular for no other reason than they say or do something that a large assortment of preteen adolescent people laugh at or find entertaining. They post a picture, tweet or video that goes viral and become an “internet sensation” overnight. What bothers me about this is… what happens when this popularity gives them a false sense of wisdom?
Now, wisdom is a very specific thing. It is NOT spouting off a popular belief, thought or quote and receiving praise for it. It’s not posting something that goes viral and is somehow therefor “wise.” To determine what wisdom actually is, I’m going to start with one of my usual practices: I’m going to look up definitions on dictionary.com.
Wisdom: the quality or state of being wise; knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity, discernment, or insight.
Wise: having the power of discerning and judging properly as to what is true or right; possessing discernment, judgment, or discretion. Possessed of or characterized by scholarly knowledge or learning; learned; erudite.
Sagacity (because I have never heard or read that word before): acuteness of mental discernment and soundness of judgment.
Discernment: discrimination; acuteness of judgment and understanding.
“Knowledge of what is true or right,” can mean different things to different people, mostly because there is often disagreement about what is true or right. “Judging properly” is something that is easily disproven in the case of many social media stars simply based on the things they post and share. It’s an ugly truth that many of them become viral stars because of the sheer stupidity they are captured in and then they exercise the poor judgment to post it. There’s an old saying: “Better to be quiet and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” The internet is the same way. Better to be absent and thought to be stupid than to post videos and photos and remove all doubt.
But in a world where even the mainstream media news outlets depend on social media as an information source, how do we address the difference in informative or educational value between the plethora of what’s posted and what is true wisdom? One of the easiest and most accurate ways is to look at the age of the social media maven posting. (“maven” – according to dictionary.com – an expert or connoisseur.) The younger generation(s) seem to easily confuse popularity with wisdom or expertise.
Before the era of social media, wisdom was recognized as something that generated from folks who had a fair amount of life’s experience through which to filter the various things they learned. It was generally recognized and accepted that “wisdom” didn’t come from the young except for very rare occasions and then from someone young who had been through something that gave them unique insight into a specific circumstance; “wisdom beyond their years.”
One could trust that the adult-to-middle-aged person you were talking to had lived long enough and learned enough about particular topics to combine the two – the learning and the life’s experience – to generate an observation that contained some valuable insight… some wisdom. By the same token, prior to social media, if the 15-year-old said something in an attempt to sound wise, even if it was something containing a nugget of wisdom, it was largely dismissed for lack of the speaker’s life experience to filter information through. That may not have always been fair but it did create a circumstance wherein that 15-year-old bit of wisdom had to really stand out as insightful and impressive… or it was dismissed. What made it stand out as insightful or impressive? How the listeners of adult age judged it.
That is quite unlike today’s world where the value of an observation is based on how many Twitter followers the speaker has or if the particular post goes viral. As proof of the concept that such measure is not worth a damned, I use the many tweets, facebook posts and more that show or demonstrate nothing more than someone’s stupidity and THAT is why it goes viral – so people can laugh at it. Yet the person who originally posted it is still seen with some reverence.
Our challenge, as a society, is that if we don’t want an entire generation… or two or three or more… to believe that wisdom is created by social media count, then we have to start actively educating them otherwise. Are you doing your part?