In an interview uploaded to YouTube, Noam Chomsky answers the question “[d]oes the generative potential of the internet help to form new kinds of social or cultural associations” by saying that he knows of “actual cases” of “adolescents who think they have 500 friends, because they have 500 friends on Facebook, but these are the kinds of friends who, if you say, ‘I had a sandwich,’ they ask ‘Did it taste good?’”
Chomsky’s disdain for social media originates in its encouragement of “interactions” that are “different from having a real friend, someone you can talk to.”
Although he claims such relationships are “not all bad,” he then says that “although I don’t use the social media, I can see the effects in my own correspondence.”
“I get a ton of correspondence,” he says, “used to be hard copy, letters people actually write, but now it’s mostly email. Recently, I didn’t notice it, but [his secretary] pointed out that … a lot of the letters that come in, they aren’t comments or queries, they’re one sentence long.”
“If you look at the nature of those one sentence letters,” he says, “you can see that most of the time it’s something that came to somebody’s mind, you know, they’re walking down the street, they had a thought and sent it out. But if they thought about it for two minutes, they wouldn’t have sent it.”
“Oftentimes I get a query from someone who saw something I said on YouTube,” he continues. “And they ask me ‘Why’d you say this?’ But of course, if a talk’s on YouTube, there aren’t any footnotes. But if they bothered to look up something in print, they would’ve seen why I said that.”
Chomsky then went on to denigrate those whose primary sources of knowledge are online, saying that when he tells these people they should “take a look at something they can look up and read, that usually ends the conversation.”
“The idea that you might want to read something is too much, can’t do that.”
This is all about access. All those people sending him one-sentence emails aren't people who would've sent letters prior to the Internet age. But now that everyone has an email address or is on Facebook and Twitter, the unwashed masses have easy access to spew and it's unsettling to the likes of Chomsky.
I think what we're seeing is much more related to an increase in access than a dumbing down. The worsening signal-to-noise ratio just makes it look like it's a dumbing down.