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“Cliché Bashing” in DRIVE: Digital natives and digital naives

Do Facebook, Instagram & Co. make us stupid, lonely or even ill? Many people now share that view. But what truth is there to the social media myths? Are the new information platforms really so bad for us or do they maybe even make us faster, more clever and better as a whole? The participants in the second staging of the “Cliché Bashing” in DRIVE, the Volkswagen Group Forum, tackled those questions. The subject: (anti)social networks – real vs. digital.

Two stands, one question, no rules. That is “Cliché Bashing”. The idea: To examine preconceptions about socially relevant issues and then question them in depth. Katja Kühnrich, the project manager for the event, has a clear vision: “The format’s deliberate goal is to bring together people with differing views. We want to bathe in controversy.” But, of course, not part ways at loggerheads. “At the end, we all come together for a conciliatory glass of sparkling wine.” What is of key importance for Katja Kühnrich is the interactive component: “Everyone should be able to have their say and, in the best-case scenario, return home reflecting more broadly on the subject.” 

“The format’s deliberate goal is to bring together people with differing views. We want to bathe in controversy.”

Katja Kühnrich
Two stands, one question, no rules. That is “Cliché Bashing”.

The seating arrangements were even designed to foster an intellectual exchange of blows: Instead of rows facing the stage as is usual in conventional talk formats, participants had to pick one of two opposing stands: “Real vs. Digital”. The moderators, experts and prominent guests also chose one: The actors Constantin von Jascheroff, Jennifer Ulrich and Nellie Thalbach opted to join the “Real” camp, whereas media psychologist Jo Groebel, presenter Thore Schölermann and blogger Vreni Frost threw their lot in with the “Digital” proponents.

The two moderators also expressed a clear preference when presenting themselves: Volker Wieprecht prefers to arrive too late rather than have his digital watch tell him the time, while an event has only taken place for Sissy Metzschke if it has a hashtag. From a desk with two laptops, live editor Franzi supplied participants throughout with studies and other content on the subject.

The moderators got to grips with the subject without any fuss, posing the question: Do social media make us weak, stupid and (more) lonely? Jo Groebel’s conviction: “Social media don’t make us lonelier. But people who have a tendency toward isolation anyway now find it much easier to shut themselves off.” 

The goal of “Cliché Bashing” is to bring together people with differing views – true to the slogan: bathing in controversy.

That is because intensive social media users are inclined to be narcissistic. “Donald Trump is the perfect example of that. He’s a sort of overblown representation of all of us: People want to see and show how great they are.” The logical conclusion from that is that Facebook and Co. does not make us weaker or even ill, added Groebel tongue in cheek. After all: There is a clear link between narcissism, self-presentation and keeping yourself fit and trim. Sharing sporting successes with as many other people as possible fosters your self-esteem.

However, Groebel was against demonizing social media in general. “When television was new, there were worries and disapproval en masse. The Internet per se is nothing negative. At the level of content, I see hardly any differences between it and traditional media.” However: The quality is different.  It is increasingly difficult to distinguish reputable media from half-truths and fake news.

But do social media really dumb us down? Is there such a thing as “digital dementia”? Live editor Franzi pointed to a study by Kaspersky Lab, which concluded that “digital amnesia” was a more fitting term. People simply no longer need to remember information for any length of time, because everything can be looked up at any time. That is why writing skills, especially among children, have already declined measurably. Yet Jo Groebel adds: “On the other hand, visual intelligence has increased.”

The dangers of social media were also examined extensively. Actress Jennifer Ulrich is all too familiar with them: She received death threats on Facebook after speaking out against violence toward refugees. But the persons in charge at Facebook and police did not want to help her at first. Shortly after that, her profile was blocked because she reported the user. That was a disaster for her: “When victims are treated in that way, all that will soon be left is hate.”

So do social media actually make us stupid and ill or smarter and better? A clear answer was not found on the evening. Yet the event was a success. The participants “bathed in controversy” and most of them definitely went home thinking more broadly about the topic.

The third edition of the format, scheduled for 2018, is to deal with questions on bringing up children.