Consider these headlines from around the world:
“Social media is harming the health of teenagers.”
“Our minds can be hijacked: The tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia.”
“Study: The more time that children spend on social media, the less happy they feel.”
These articles, with expert sources referenced, argue that the technology we’ve embraced not only negatively affects adults, but also their children and grandchildren. While the benefits of social media are clear, the downside is less apparent.
The speech and debate team of Howard Payne University’s Student Speaker Bureau hosted two members of the National Communication Association’s British National Debate Team this month, and on Sunday night they were joined by two HPU students for a public presentation of parliamentary debate on that topic.
“This house regrets social media” was the theme, a proposition styled in the manner in which houses of British Parliament address issues. Unlike what Americans hear on talk shows, these debates are civil and carefully structured. Even when the speaker who has the floor is interrupted with a question from someone on the other side, it’s done politely and the reply is brief, perhaps humorous.
The luck of the draw meant the two Howard Payne students — Tyler Olin of Howe, a social science jurisprudence and Guy D. Newman Honors Academy major, and Christopher Freeland of Bangs, a theater education major — went on the offensive, debating the merits of having such a “regret.”
The British team, Rebecca Howarth and Richard Hunter, countered with social media’s benefits to communication. HPU’s guests are involved in a 52-day tour of American colleges, organized by the British National Debate Team Committee for International Discussion and Debate and the English-Speaking Union.
Each side could have been arguing the opposite stance. During the question-and-answer session with the audience that followed, the visitors from Britain agreed that if assignments had been reversed, their approach would have been much the same as that taken by HPU’s team.
The biographies of the British visitors showed they have vast experience and impressive credentials in international debate. The two local underclassmen, both classified as juniors at HPU, performed well, holding their own in what seemed to be a respectful dialogue rather than quarrel.
The presentation served several purposes beyond a mere cultural exchange between scholars from two nations, as significant as that is. It illustrated how controversial topics can be debated with reason and courtesy, a lesson many need to learn these days. It also provided an opportunity for American students to sharpen their skills against international speakers.
The event opened some eyes to a growing problem, too. At least, it did mine.
During the debate, each side outlined reasons that supported “regretting” or not regretting social media. It was mostly a philosophical exchange that didn’t advance to include any specific proposals on how a government might maintain oversight. In free societies such as the democracies represented, deciding how much regulation is appropriate — even constitutional — would demand more time than the approximately one hour the teams were allocated for discussion.
But self-regulation and parental supervision are something else. No legislation needs to be drafted, and no parliamentary debate is required. The only dispute might involve the negotiations between parents and their youngsters who have become addicted to their electronic devices.
Adults might want to reconsider the extent of their own use, as well.
Search “social media addiction,” read the articles, and decide for yourself.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at email@example.com.