Is our online activity destroying the world as we know it?

640px-University_Park_MMB_Q4_Students_Union_Elections_2013If you went looking for a theme in media opinion over the past several weeks, you likely came up with something like this: Being Online is Bad for You, Your Loved Ones, and the Universe.

It probably didn’t start with the big celebrity cellphone hack, but that certainly hasn’t helped people feel more cheerful about the cozy little social circle we’re pretending to build in the cloud. A recent revelation about bogus cellphone towers that may be siphoning off your data isn’t going to make you feel much better. Although looking out for a few telltale signs may help.

The whole culture of social media depends upon making our data socially available. It’s not especially helpful, or fair, to blame the victim when others violate the cultural contract. And the pressure to share comes from a lot of different sources, some of them quite dear to us, as this Time guest opinion points out.

Manifestation_en_Algérie_contre_la_hausse_des_prix_(2011)If the violation of their privacy isn’t enough to give us pause, there’s been lots of discussion recently about the ethical and psychological costs that accompany our clicks. Jill Lepore, of The New Yorker, reflected last week on the collective misery encompassed in the images we upload and share. And when we watch a video of a beheading, or leer at someone’s private photos, do we share some culpability with the perpetrators? The Daily Beast muses here about the extent of our responsibility.

Whatever our reasons, we are probably thinking more now than we used to about what we share and whom we share it with. A recent study by the Pew Research Center showed that our social networks might harbor some blind spots when it comes to subjects deemed unpopular or controversial. But the beauty of having so many sources at our fingertips is that when we get tired of the funhouse maze, we can always go looking for something more compelling.

Like this meditation from On Being, which reminds us that we’re free to do more than just identify and analyze our problems. We can also try to address them with a spirit of hope and creativity.

640px-Poland._Gmina_Raszyn._Janki_002And if your online audience does tune out, that doesn’t mean they’re unreachable. As we pointed out earlier this year, the fragmented, chaotic media landscape is both a challenge and an oportunity. To cut through it, we need to reevaluate our conventional assumptions and do work that’s compelling enough to stand out from the noise.

Even if that turns out to be something as retro as this recent spoof from Ikea. What is “a bookbook?” The answer will not depress you. You may even feel like sharing it with someone you know.

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Student photo by mattbuck (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AUniversity_Park_MMB_%C2%ABQ4_Students’_Union_Elections_2013.jpg) via Wikimedia Commons.

Algerian riots photo by magharebia (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AManifestation_en_Alg%C3%A9rie_contre_la_hausse_des_prix_(2011).jpg) via Wikimedia Commons.

IKEA photo by Albert Yankowski (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APoland._Gmina_Raszyn._Janki_002.JPG) via Wikimedia Commons.