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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

November 21, 2018   |   Ithaca, NY

News

New York Times columnist speaks about effects of social media

Journalist David Brooks told Ithaca College students to find passion and satisfaction in their lives Oct. 4 in the Emerson Suites when he visited campus as part of the Park Distinguished Visitor Series.

Brooks, a Canadian-born American conservative political and cultural commentator, spoke about the ways social media has transformed journalism both positively and negatively. He is an op-ed columnist for the New York Times and appears regularly as a commentator on “PBS NewsHour,” NPR’s “All Things Considered” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He is also an award-winning author for his book “The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement,” which has appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list.

Brooks’ lecture, titled “Our Lives On-Line: The Challenge of Forging Identities, Relationships, and a New Society Through Mobile/Social Media,” explored what he said were the professional and moral risks of social media. Additionally, he spoke about how the landscape of social media has affected the ways in which news and information are disseminated. Most of the lecture consisted of Brooks expanding on the theories and findings in his newest book, “The Road to Character,” and how it applies to how graduates who are entering their careers, particularly when entering the journalism field.

“You only have a passion after you’ve done something, and you realize you love doing it,” Brooks said. “We give the impression that the answers to all your problems are somewhere inside you.The answers are not in here, they’re out there.”

Brooks graduated from the University of Chicago in 1983 as a history major. He was the op-ed editor of the school paper. After graduation, he freelanced for a year before working as a police reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago, where he said he fell in love with journalism. Once discovering this, Brooks worked for the Wall Street Journal, first as the editor of the book review section and then as an op-ed columnist.

As he spoke about the changes in the field as a result of social media, he compared journalists to athletes.

“We used to be all middledistance runners,” Brooks said. “We’d go to a news conference, write an 800-word story about it for the next day. That doesn’t exist anymore. Now you’re either a sprinter, constantly tweeting out the latest news, or you’re a marathon runner. You’re looking out over the last three weeks of events, and you’re doing a big conceptual story about what this all means.”

Another way Brooks said the field has changed is the competition for attention. With so much news available, he said he thinks journalists learn to write popular stories instead of writing about problems that need a solution.

Along with the changes to journalism, Brooks said social media can pose a threat to students both professionally and morally. However, he clarified that the real threat does not occur during college, but during the five to 10 years after graduating.

He said when students graduate college, ending the cycle of classes and schoolwork, and gain an even greater sense of independence, many become depressed, alcoholic and emotionally unstable.

Brooks’ advice?

“Go to Mongolia and herd yaks,” he said.

He said to the students in the audience, that they should put themselves in situations that put them outside of their comfort zone once they graduate. Rather than worrying about getting a job immediately after college, he said students should take time to find what would create a meaningful life for them.

“It’s super easy in journalism … to flit from one story to another, never really becoming an expert in anything,” he said.

Brooks said social media puts people at risk for only striving to live a life that fits an aesthetic on social media, a form of temporary satisfaction. He said students should be wary of getting caught up in this lifestyle. He said he thinks the increased lack of commitment among graduate students is largely a result of social media.

“If you live your life as a series of just interesting moments, and if you spend your life keeping your options open and not really committing to any one thing, you’ll find yourself living a fragmented life,” Brooks said.

As a result of the impermanent nature of social media and society’s shortening attention span, Brooks said he has observed what he calls a Telos Crisis — a feeling among the youth that they have no purpose and therefore a lack of desire to do anything during their lifetime.

The Telos Crisis among college graduates is representative of the crisis the country is currently undergoing, he said. When people are insecure in their purpose, as he believes many graduates are, Brooks said they revert to tribal attitudes and relationships based on a common hatred of others instead of a common love for the other person in the relationship.

Fortunately, Brooks said suffering reveals a person’s true self.

“This is the moment when your life begins to turn around because you react, Brooks said. “You realize the shallow food of a cat video is not going to satisfy you. You realize ‘I need something richer. I need richer sustenance.’”

From there, Brooks said, people find their purpose. He gave the example of George Orwell, who became a passionate writer after fighting on the losing side during the Spanish Civil War and living in poverty.

Brooks said an important part of finding purpose is learning the difference between happiness and joy.

“I make the distinction between happiness, which is about expanding the self and winning victories, and joy, which is about erasure of the self and forgetting the self and pouring the self out into something,” Brooks said.

Brooks concluded by saying that for some people, joy is an outlook, not just a feeling. He said that by seeking joy and purpose, people are able to stay in contact with the deeper parts of themselves. He acknowledged that social media is a great tool, but warned, again, against the danger of living entirely in passing moments, with no greater commitment.