by Zoey Duncan
Mount Royal University’s self-proclaimed techie president, Dave Marshall, engaged in a debate about the uses and abuses of social media on March 11. Marshall discussed the dependency of society on social media while Gil Wilkes, who holds the Ralph Klein Chair in Communication Studies, argued that social media eases communication.
Marshall said he was initially worried that people would discount his opinions based on his age.
“I was worried that just because I raise some concerns about social media that I would be called an old guy that just hasn’t caught up with the times,” he said in an email (via his iPhone, on an airplane). “But I have been a ‘techie’ for 37 years.”
In his opening remarks, Marshall explained that he was the second university president in the country to adopt the BlackBerry, and that he was the first to carry a portable computer – a 37-pound “luggable” that he carried to all his meetings.
“First, human beings are basically weak-willed,” he said. “Given the opportunity, most people will do anything other than what they’re supposed to do. Social media gives you the perfect excuse to simply waste time. And there’s no bigger waste of time than Twittering, Facebooking, Stumbling and Digging.”
Marshall expressed his horror at drivers who use Twitter or instant messaging on the road, endangering the lives of “presidential motorcycle riders.”
Wilkes, who teaches in the communications and culture faculty at Royal Roads University when he is not at Mount Royal, argued that social media allows users to control their desired content as well as open up their own channels.
“Now with Facebook, [it’s] just very easy status updates and everybody thinks I love them,” he said. “Even though I don’t, it’s lowering the coordination costs of those routine sorts of communication that we all take for granted.”
Wilkes said that services like Twitter open up huge doors for marketers and political engagement.
“This is a good thing, it’s keeping us honest,” he said.
The two men agreed on some points, including the amount of “crap” on Twitter and the size of some peoples’ friends lists. Wilkes said that our “simian forbears” lived in groups of seven to 12 members, and humans work well in those configurations.
Marshall said that he is baffled by people with more than 200 Facebook friends.
“We used to call people nuts that had imaginary friends they’ve never seen,” he said.
By the end of the debate, one thing was clear: all things should be taken in moderation. Wilkes said that he keeps social media out of the classroom, while Marshall cautioned those in attendance about addiction.
“Dependency, no matter how you look at it, is a bad thing,” Marshall said. “I’m worried just a little bit that maybe, just maybe, we’re getting a little too dependent on social media in all aspects of our lives.”