Though “fake news”, paranoia and canards have long been by-products of the modern press, the rapid decline of trust in mass media worldwide threatens both the role of the press in democratic culture and citizens’ conceptions of successful governance. This was already predicted vis à vis the world wide web by James Everett Katz in 1998, the social dimension being drawn in as a further driving force in his subsequent early studies of affordance effects on users of mobile technology. The current skeptical demise of trust in legacy news organizations has been accelerated by economic realities, the power of “weak ties”, a lack of understanding of what “algorithms” are and do (they are not neutral, once implemented in the social world), and the generally hierarchical but also disrupting and potentially reforming networking effects of certain voices and chatbots in journalistic gatekeeping and political spamming. In general, we remain unclear about what human uses, motivations, and effects of social media really are in a variety of differing contexts across the globe, and in the context of a variety of different forms of human life and relationships. Though early studies are beginning to give us a better picture of the variables involved, discourse both on and about social media remains epideictic through and through. Canvassing some of the most recent sociological work by the Apparatgeist school of Katz and results of a recent Mellon Sawyer Seminar at Boston University I am co-organizing 2017-2019 (www.mellonphilemerge.com), I argue that it is still the social world, our rapidly evolving forms of life, that remain a needed focus for research that is philosophically, humanistically and empirically informed.
Juliet Floyd is Professor of Philosophy at Boston University. Her research focuses on the interplay between logic, mathematics, and philosophy in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, as well as current philosophical implications of emerging computational technologies. A specialist on Wittgenstein and Turing, she has published on a diverse array of topics, including aesthetics, modernism, rule-following, ordinary language philosophy, and American pragmatism. She co-edited Future Pasts: The Analytic Tradition in Twentieth Century Philosophy (2001, with S. Shieh); Philosophy of Emerging Media: Understanding, Appreciation, Application (2016, with J. E. Katz) and Philosophical Aspects of the Legacy of Alan Turing: Turing 100 (2017, with A. Bokulich). With J. E. Katz and R. Powell she is currently directing a Mellon Sawyer Seminar Grant at Boston University (2017-2019), “Humanity and Technology at the Crossroads”, a multi-disciplinary faculty development series exploring the effects of computational architecture on everyday life.