“If Trump doesn’t destroy us in the next year, in the next 20 years social media will have destroyed us.”
That is the opinion of Booker Prize winning author, Howard Jacobson, printed in The Times earlier this week. Howard believes that, since children are spending more time on Twitter and less time reading literature, our future generations will be illiterate. This is a bold statement to make in an age where social media plays a significant role in the life of the majority, both for work and play. So, are we all scrolling our way towards illiteracy?
Not really, no.
Twitter, and social media in general, beyond being a huge part of users’ personal lives, is also a powerful tool utilised by every PR professional. In fact, today, those who use social media are arguably more powerful in the PR industry than those who don’t.
Jacobson cited Donald Trump’s use of Twitter as evidence for his controversial statement, suggesting that the President uses the platform to sidestep the traditional media from which the “metropolitan elite” tend to get their news, instead communicating directly with the “poorly educated”.
This is a statement to which Twitter users will rightly take great offence. Even though fewer people are reading novels, social media encourages reading in a myriad of ways. A large proportion of users keep up to date with current affairs through monitoring Twitter – breaking news is often reported on social media before the press have a chance to publish it. Social media allows users to stay up to date with what’s going on in this ever-changing climate and educate themselves on everything from politics, to tech, to gossip – in fact, it makes staying ‘educated’ on what’s going on around us much easier.
Jacobson goes on to argue that Twitter is “almost exclusively of statement” which only encourages illiteracy since “much of the best part of thought and conversation isn’t statement, it’s exploration, inquiry, irony”. This is simply not true: users cannot escape from engaging with the opinion of others on social media. On the contrary, Twitter stimulates a level of engagement and depth of conversation that is key to our education.
Twitter is a platform on which people can express their own opinions whilst reading those of others from around the globe, whether it be through individuals’ tweets or in opinion pieces from the (inter)national press shared on the platform. Twitter is a sea of people thinking out loud, asking to engage with others and encouraging debate. Whether social media users are proud or ashamed of the fact, it would be reasonable to assume that the majority have, at one point or another, become engaged in a heated online ‘debate’ as they defend their beliefs in the face of a disagreeable tweet or Facebook status.
In this digital era, rather than keeping thoughts private, users are encouraged to share them, whether they are wanted or not: Twitter could not make this easier. With 140 characters and the click of a button, anyone can post their personal opinion to over 300 million people and spark an international debate. President Trump’s reliably controversial tweets provide some of the best evidence for how quickly these debates can begin, and how heated they can become. In fact, the bizarre power of twitter is epitomised by the fact that a President can now declare his views on global affairs on a channel originally conceived as a simple 140-character newsfeed.
Social media does not suffocate education. It encourages individuals to read more often and on a wider range of topics; to explore and think about what they’ve read; to share what they’ve read and to offer an opinion on what they’ve read. It may not be literature, but social media is all about reading. Ultimately, Twitter is not destroying a generation: instead it is educating a generation in a way that, 20 years ago, nobody could have imagined.