The Public Sphere

“A portion of the public sphere comes into being in every conversation in which private individuals assemble to form a public body.”—Jurgen Habermas

When I first read about Jurgen Habermas’ notion of the public sphere, I thought about social media and how it could offer a place for all people to connect publicly and discuss issues critically. However, I see limited evidence of this happening. While I’m sure at least one critical thought for every 2.5 million ridiculous ones does appear on social media, I wouldn’t consider Facebook or Twitter to be useful tools for challenging the status quo. Given the self-absorbed nature of most social media content, and the fact that social media is a major driver in digital profiling and segmented advertising, I would argue that it’s more subjugating than traditional media.

What’s most disturbing is the growing number of people addicted to social media channels and the devices they use to access them, which means that social media is not only manipulative but something that has become embedded into our culture. Even if we try to use social media tools to engage in civic or political discussion, we are bombarded with advertising and suggested content within the framework of each channel. As well, since these social media channels filter the content we receive (based on various criteria), they are controlling to a significant degree the content we see and don’t see. Individuals, corporations and governments can also pay money to prioritize their content, which pushes other unpaid content down below. This can impact how we view authority and the ways in which we accept or question the world around us.

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Pros and Cons

Tonight I took off my arm sling and went outside for a run. I felt so free without the heavy weight on my arm and it was nice not to get hot and sweaty under all the metal and padding. I’m not supposed to take it off yet as my broken wrist is still healing, but I’m tired of wearing the sling all the time. I definitely still need it for everyday activities, as it’s painful when I pick up things or bend my wrist.

As I ran, I thought about how the sling is a hindrance to running, but an essential tool for using my right hand to carry, grab or push things. It’s interesting how something can benefit in one area but detract in another. It’s like my phone, which helps me professionally to access my email, schedule and resources while I’m out of the office or in meetings, but is a significant hindrance to family life when used in the evenings and weekends.

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Dumb Smartphones

I need to spend less time on my phone. Some of my usage is an occupational hazard given my work in public relations, but there is absolutely no need for me to constantly check my phone during breakfast, lunch or supper, while I’m at the playground with my children, or when my parents come by for a visit. Last Wednesday I unintentionally left my phone on my desk when I went for lunch and I felt incredibly lost and uncomfortable without it.

Tomorrow I will not check my phone until after I’ve dropped my children off at school. Nor will I check it while they’re at their swimming and martial arts classes or when I’m about to go to bed. It’s time to set some boundaries before I’m completely controlled by my technological gadgets. I’d get rid of my GPS watch as well but that might send me completely over the edge.

Now I’m off to bed to read The New Yorker … in print not digital.

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