Is the pen mightier than the sword in a social world?

2013-01-11 2 min read

    The recent revolt around Instagram’s TOS changes got me thinking about the revolt against SOPA/PIPA and the impact social media is having on cultural participation. We’re wired to want to improve things and when we come across what we feel is an injustice we want to change it. Unfortunately, social media has made us lazy. Sharing something on Twitter or Facebook gives us the nice, warm feeling that we’re actively contributing to a cause. Instead of going out and demonstrating in public, snail mailing our representatives, or providing financial support, we’re clicking a link and think we’re making a difference. PIPA/SOPA wasn’t stopped due to internet outrage but from people calling their representatives and doing more than just mentioning their opposition. Wikipedia and Reddit didn’t just put a message up saying they oppose PIPA/SOPA but blacked out their site. Would the result be the same if they just had a message stating they opposed it?

    Social media is great at raising awareness, it’s just not very useful until someone down the line acts on it. Does the increase in awareness lead to actual change? This simplicity and reach also leads to a massive number of causes being championed. I can’t login to Facebook without seeing some cause being shared and promoted. Causes now need to market themselves as much as a consumer product. Are we really better off?

    I can’t help but think of the pen and sword metaphor. The pen is mightier than the sword because the pen is able to get many swords. Does social media just give everyone pens or does it lead to more swords?

    My way of dealing with this is to take a real action every time I share something on social media. If I share a Kickstarter project then I will donate to it. If I share opposition or support of a bill, I will call my representative. We’d be in much better shape if everyone did the same.