COLUMNS

Just Thinking: Social media is one disaster we should fear

Margo Bartlett
Guest Columnist

I’m calling this “Things That Haven’t Been the Disasters We Feared They’d Be.” “Yet,” I might add, because although most of the fears have fizzled, some have not. 

Take microwave ovens. Back when everyone was buying their first microwave, before kitchens were designed to include microwaves the way they are designed to include sinks, everyone was fretting about the health risks of nuking broccoli.  

Margo Bartlett

We also wondered if standing close to a running microwave was risky. For a while, I’d press “start” and then run for cover in another room, but that didn’t work. For one thing, the kids were in the way. 

Microwaves also came with cookbooks that claimed a person could prepare a full meal in minutes. The photographs of hams, casseroles and fancy cakes suggested homeowners might as well drag their conventional stoves to the curb. The microwave was all you needed. 

That wasn’t true, of course.  

It’s difficult enough to wrestle a turkey out of its packaging (whether we’re talking about a frozen bird or one fresh from the barnyard) and into a roasting pan without considering what roasting pan, as it can’t be metal or foil, or how to cook the rest of the meal when the microwave is bulging with turkey.  

All those worries faded away long ago, save one.  

While newer kitchens have microwave niches along with stove and refrigerator niches, houses built before indoor plumbing have no such accommodations.  

The corner where the microwave sits once held cookbooks. The books easily were relocated, but as a microwave niche, that spot is just slightly more convenient than a workbench in the garage. But no other surface is available. As it is, we have to keep the waffle iron in the dining room. 

Next, answering machines. When everyone was buying them, introspective consumers examined their motives. Would leaving messages lead to weakened communication and societal breakdown?  

“I don’t talk to machines,” some people huffed.  

Meanwhile, those of us who secretly loved leaving messages and being done with it watched answering machines become ubiquitous and hesitated to express our rising joy. It seemed like saying we hated everybody when we just hated talking on the phone to everybody. And we worried about our recorded message, recited in our Alvin the Chipmunk-sounding voice.   

Of course, this was before the internet, cellphones, social media and all the other ways people don’t talk on the telephone anymore. And speaking of telephones, I wish I could say cellphones are another disaster that wasn’t.  

“Cordless phones!” we squawked when mobile phones were on the near horizon. Phones that could be carried anywhere, like wallets or cameras or notebooks, were astonishing enough. When we realized these phones not only were portable like those items but had replaced those items, the stupefaction nearly killed us. 

Not all of us, of course. The younger the person, the more nonchalant the reception, just as people who were children when the Wrights took flight were doubtless interested in but not staggered by air travel. My grandmother often recalled being born in the age of horse-drawn transportation and living to see a man walk on the moon. 

But the whole business scares me. 

Oh, I use a cellphone and the internet. But social media has distorted our lives. The wounds of middle school online bullying victims are deeper and more dangerous than those inflicted before the internet.  

Thanks to social media, people can lie, extort, traffic, harass, assault and thieve anonymously, or nearly so. They can text while driving cars.  

Now I didn’t come here to say, “Hey, you guys, don’t text and drive,” like that’s a fresh idea. I came here to panic. I came here to mewl and puke. Social media has been released and, like the pestilence from Pandora’s box, there’s no calling it back. 

I worry about young people in particular because I remember my own dumb self, with my immature brain. Being 13 with a still-growing brain and social media is like being a baby squirrel with a gun. It hardly bears thinking about.  

I find myself wishing the problem were standing too close to the microwave while my breakfast blueberries thaw. The world was much simpler then. 

Write to Margo Bartlett at margo.bartlett@gmail.com.