Beware Socially Transmitted Digitalizations

PHOTO: Ben Timney, Flickr CC
Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

I’m going to talk about social media. It’s a risky move. Talking about social media outside of social media often makes it sound silly, petty and insignificant. A colossal waste of our collective time and resources. The killer of democracies and the destroyer of reason. And of course, it’s not all of those things. At least, not yet.

Worse yet I’m talking to readers in rural Minnesota, where not everybody uses social media. Talking about tweets, memes and likes might make these folks think we’re talking about some kind of strange venereal disease that young people catch when they spend too much time on their phones.

Which brings me to my point. Social media is a venereal disease.

Think about it. Social media begins innocently enough. You start following people you know well. People you trust. Then you start following people you just met. Before you know it you’re friending people in the park, the back alley, on the bus. Your cousin. Nothing matters any more. Just the next friend, another notch in the Otterbox.

Furthermore, once you catch social media, you can’t get rid of it. Sure, you can treat and manage the disease. You learn to live with it. But you’ll always end up wishing you could go back in time and put a cover on that phone. Wasn’t worth it.

That’s right, we’ve got an STD: Socially Transmitted Digitalization, also known as the clap emoji.

This STD doesn’t just affect young people. Oh no, the fastest growing sector of this disease is among our senior population. And no, I’m not talking about the Greatest Generation. They learned their lesson back in the war. No, I’m talking about the baby boomers. The free love generation.

“Hey man, wanna groove on some of these pictures of cartoon characters with ill-informed political arguments written on them. They’re far out.”

You gotta watch out for that guy. He’s out there. Just say no like Nancy Reagan said.

A recent study by researchers from NYU and Princeton University shows that social media users over the age of 65 are twice as likely to share information from fake sources as those aged 45-65. And they’re seven times more likely to share fake news than 18- to 29-year-olds.

But that’s not to excuse young people. A Stanford study from 2016 showed that 88 percent of students got their news first from social media. That seems about as wise as everyone selecting their pickle jars from the bottom of the pyramid display at the grocery store. Clean up on Aisle Earth.

See, long ago printing something for others to read took effort, time and expense. Imagine having to cross-stitch every Facebook status update. You’d probably put more thought into it, wouldn’t you?

But here in the future, up is down. Left is South. Purple is aardvark. Not only can people produce a fake newspaper that looks real, they can digitally generate a photograph of you applying a name brand hemorrhoid cream on the front page of that fake paper. It takes minutes with the right software. So what do we do? We cross-stitch ornate swear words in our spare time … to relax.

It’s a doozy of a situation. But there’s hope of remission. My son, for instance, wants no part of social media. Mostly because he sees how it’s turned his mom and dad into a pair of corn fed zombies. I’m afraid to say that abstinence is the only 100 percent effective prevention technique.

Scientists are working on a cure for Socially Transmitted Digitization. I have confidence we will end this social media disease in our lifetime. We can hope.

Anyway, perhaps it goes without saying, but it would really help if you shared this online. And like it. And comment. Oh, and tell your friends. Your real ones and your fake ones. And strangers. And the bots.

Really, I’d just like it if someone noticed me over here. That’s what it’s all about.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, May 5, 2019 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune and was based on a monologue delivered in the April 13, 2019 Great Northern Radio Show.


  1. Joe musich says

    Wow my age statistical group is breaking the barriers into light lifting of social media. I would be curious to know what the percentage is of this group’s fox viewing ? So here is a link sort of laying out some numbers. There may be others. My thinking is that it is not social media alone leading to your newly discovered disease but a coupling with talking heads that worsens the affliction and makes the cure more difficult..So gathering all the information seems to be the best cure…

  2. Kate Mohler says

    I find your correlation between sexually transmitted diseases and socially transmitted digitalization ignorant and insensitive. The following part was particularly offensive: “That’s right, we’ve got an STD: Socially Transmitted Digitalization, also known as the clap emoji.” The clap? Really? I think a regular STD scares people. Your version of an STD is a joke. I found this piece very immature, which I don’t see a lot on your site.

    • Anyone remember Charles Schultz Peanuts Characters? The rubber band incident? All of a sudden I can hear the Vince Guaraldi Trio playing “Linus And Lucy”

  3. One or zero, on or off, like or dislike, are far too binary to contain anything human. Everything becomes fragmented and disjointed. There needs to be gray. There needs to be nuance, obviously. Drazkowski, for example. I could not like Drazkowski in a strictly digital scenario. However, I do like Drazkowski.

    Drazkowski reaches capital ‘C’ levels of cool on my hierarchy. Not many are rated so high. Very few in fact. The ‘C’ is for Carlos, as in Mariani. No one can reach full Carlos level cool except Carlos. But Drazkowsi is up there near the top.

    One time we saw Carlos at Jazz in Lowertown. Not sure that much cool is even legal anymore. People were like, “Look! There goes Carlos…” I was just like, “Wow. Carlos man…”

    Point is: I would not like Drazkowski in a digital world where everything lacks nuance and human nature. You have to see someone like Drazkowski operate in space to fully appreciate his coolness. He is an entire character. I appreciate the role he plays.

    I could not place Drazkowski so high on the Carlos scale if I did not avoid most internet things.

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