sociologist zygmunt bauman on social media and community

Q. You are skeptical of the way people protest through social media, of so-called “armchair activism,” and say that the internet is dumbing us down with cheap entertainment. So would you say that the social networks are the new opium of the people?

A. The question of identity has changed from being something you are born with to a task: you have to create your own community. But communities aren’t created, and you either have one or you don’t. What the social networks can create is a substitute. The difference between a community and a network is that you belong to a community, but a network belongs to you. You feel in control. You can add friends if you wish, you can delete them if you wish. You are in control of the important people to whom you relate. People feel a little better as a result, because loneliness, abandonment, is the great fear in our individualist age. But it’s so easy to add or remove friends on the internet that people fail to learn the real social skills, which you need when you go to the street, when you go to your workplace, where you find lots of people who you need to enter into sensible interaction with. Pope Francis, who is a great man, gave his first interview after being elected to Eugenio Scalfari, an Italian journalist who is also a self-proclaimed atheist. It was a sign: real dialogue isn’t about talking to people who believe the same things as you. Social media don’t teach us to dialogue because it is so easy to avoid controversy… But most people use social media not to unite, not to open their horizons wider, but on the contrary, to cut themselves a comfort zone where the only sounds they hear are the echoes of their own voice, where the only things they see are the reflections of their own face. Social media are very useful, they provide pleasure, but they are a trap.

(from an interview in El País earlier this year)

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  1. It’s always a comfort to find others, like Bauman, who more giftedly express the thoughts rambling in frustrated fashion through my head– and who wouldn’t look at me as if I’m crazy for expressing said sentiments.

  2. I do wish commentary like this included emphasis on the word “most” when saying “most people” do this or do that. If they did, I might be less inclined to think to myself, “Yes, but not *all* people”.

    • Fair enough. Generalization is never a good thing, without presenting the evidence to back it up.

  3. Kali Durga

     /  May 23, 2016

    I don’t know if a statement such as was made even needs evidence, it’s fairly self-evident. It just needs to be qualified. I know in my own case that I do use the internet and social media as a tool to “open my horizons wider”. I know that many people don’t, but as someone who does, the lack of emphasis on qualifiers is sometimes troublesome.

    • There’s definitely plenty of evidence all over the web, but whether it’s merely anecdotal is uncertain. Who can say if “most” people do or don’t use social media to unite when there are literally billions of people using social media? Entire social movements have been mobilized via social media, and that seems to suggest a stronghold of desire to unite. I’m less interested in what he says there in the end than in what he has to say at the beginning about communities versus networks. I also agree with him that navigating social media does not require any real social skills.

      • Kali Durga

         /  May 23, 2016

        I’ll agree with the beginning to a point, but even there the generalization needs to be qualified. It is possible to create a network that is a community. Whether the current generation does much of that or if it’s older people like me and my peers who had pre-internet social experience, I couldn’t say. But I do believe that he’s too absolute in saying that you can’t create a community.



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