Jonathan Franzen posted an essay to the New York Times this past weekend.
It ends up being a blog post in the sense that he reveals something about himself, something about his own journey to a more authentic engagement with environmentalism, borne out of a particular passion for birdwatching that he came to later in life.
But it starts as a curmudgeonly rant about how smartphones empower narcissism. How the culture promoted by technology is necessarily destructive of real character and the willingness to make commitments to other people that risk pain and loss.
Now, I don't find it possible to dismiss his critique out of hand, for two reasons: (1) as I say above, he ends up writing his critique in the form of an authentic blog post, by which I mean, not marketing drivel or link baiting, but words seeking authentic self-expression and a willingness to be vulnerable; and (2) I think he's on to something about the link between "liking" and the advertiser's imperative to reduce living to consumption.
However, I know that the quest to love others he holds up as the standard is something that smartphones and blogging platforms and even social media networks will enable. True, if you take Facebook, that big, overdetermined boxstore that is about as humanistic as a shopping mall, as your example, social media begins to seem like a prison where the inmates obligingly lock themselves in and pay an absent corporate warden for the privilege.
It's not television unless you are passive about it. It's more like radio, except you are allowed to listen, to speak, and to manage some of the programming.
But engaging the world through the internet takes curiosity, and more time than most people Franzen's age want to put into it. More time, no doubt, than one should spend if one is already managing one's own journey to authenticity in a different way.
Illustration of the bird watching sheriff by Storn Cook, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Generic License.