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The Wall of "Un-Enlightenment"

Updated: Aug 19, 2019

A Facebook News Feed circa. 2018


The Wall of Un-Enlightenment

The past 30 odd years have brought with them rapid expansion in the technology industry. It is almost impossible to not come in contact with some innovative form of technology in your day-to-day life. We carry around supercomputer smartphones in our pockets no more than 9 inches in length that would have at one time needed to take up a whole room’s worth of space (most likely taking hours to start up). With smartphones in hand, the world becomes a little smaller and a whole lot more connected. Concepts found in distant lands no longer need months or years time to reach us. Mere seconds and you’re in touch with the other side of the world. However, technology is only a useful tool in the hands of those who understand both its benefits and its downfalls. Humans may find themselves abusing the tool’s privileges; eventually rendering the tool from being valuable. Facebook feeds are an example of this. Facebook feeds limit man’s ability for public thinking and; therefore, in Kant’s eyes keeps us in a state of self imposed ignorance and immaturity.

Facebook is rightfully regarded as the biggest and most popular social media platform to date. It has billions of users constantly poking, liking, and sharing. It wasn’t very long ago that Facebook revamped its site and implemented the news feed. At first, this only contained the status updates and photos that the people in your “friends list” posted, but an algorithm change to compete with rising social platforms changed this. Facebook feeds became the source of viral videos, common niche groups, and worldwide news. These algorithms function as a sort of guardian to enlightenment. Now it is important to acknowledge that this isn’t the traditional guardian that Kant was thinking about, but it does act in a similar way. Kant thought of guardians as physical entities that imposed thinking upon others, but in this scenario it is as if you are imposing your own thinking upon yourself. The algorithm keeps adding content that it “learns” from the previous content that you interact with, therefore; reinforcing notions, ideas, and information that you were pre-disposed to believe are, in all intents and purposes, right. This is where misuse comes into play, “Rules and formulas, those mechanical aids to the rational use, or rather misuse, of his natural gifts, are the shackles of a permanent immaturity.”[i] Because we are continually reaffirmed by these algorithms, we no longer put in any effort to seek outside information, “I need not exert myself at all.”[ii] “I get my news from Facebook.” It’s a statement heard a lot now-a-days. Having this single source of news that tends to be swayed to agree with us is not helpful. How can you learn about yourself, others, and the absolute truth if you keep yourself boxed into one way of rational thought?

Another way in which the use of Facebook feeds is misused is the blocking feature. Those opposing views that do manage to slip through the algorithms cracks (or “friends” wanting to express their differing thoughts) do not live long on the feeds of those that lack the strength to reason with an idea and would rather ignore it completely. These individuals tend to have to be forced into the light in order to change their views—very stubborn individuals indeed. “Lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another.”[iii] Once people find themselves in this media bubble they have created for themselves, it is hard to get out unless someone has the strength and will to do so.

Exacerbated news and wrongfully constructed editorialized pieces plaster the Facebook web page. They are shared by people who, against majority sentiment, are capable of rational thought. They have the ability but lack the know-how of deconstructing arguments to their essential rational truths. Feeds have also become battle grounds as these grandiose elaborations wreak havoc on interpersonal relationships. Some articles tell of hateful happenings in Washington, down at the border, or even worse, your backyard. Because of the way Facebook works, most people read headlines from sources they believe to be right (because they post agreeable content), get heated, and click share—all before they can adequately examine the argument of the article to be truth in essence, “Instead, new prejudices, just like the old ones they replace, will serve as a leash for the great unthinking mass.”[iv] By not doing our due diligence with the arguments we are presented, we limit not only our correct foundation of truth and enlightenment, but others as well.

There are lots of ways in which the Facebook feed could be really useful. As are most tools, it is the way in which we use them that becomes an issue. One could argue that the Facebook platform is an acropolis of sorts where people “gather” to exchange ethical and new ideas. I am sure that Socrates would have been constantly commenting on his “friends” positions asking them why what they posted was right. If Facebook were to be used constructively in order to align on the path of enlightenment that Kant believes to be true, then it would need to be a complete open forum for people to exchange—unfortunately right now this is only a dream of sorts. Another argument one might have is that people are actively reasoning; they just aren’t doing it on Facebook. These people want Facebook to be a place to convene with like minded individuals.

I believe that Facebook can be a source of enlightenment if it is used properly. If you refrain from using the block button it can be a place of ample opportunity to talk to people. If Facebook is the platform with the most users on it from around the world, it would be a waste to not utilize it. The biggest acropolis in the world.

One thing is certain. If we do not learn how to use these types of technological advances to our advantage to achieve enlightenment, it will soon be too late. With the pace that technology continues to push forward into ingenuity, the harder it will be to adapt.

[i] Kant, I. (1992). What is Enlightenment(T. Humphrey, Trans.). Hackett Publishing. (1)

[ii] Kant, I. (1992). What is Enlightenment(T. Humphrey, Trans.). Hackett Publishing. (1)

[iii] Kant, I. (1992). What is Enlightenment(T. Humphrey, Trans.). Hackett Publishing. (1)

[iv] Kant, I. (1992). What is Enlightenment(T. Humphrey, Trans.). Hackett Publishing. (2)



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