I've just started reading a book of articles written by G K Chesterton for the Illustrated London News (1923-1925). In February 1923 he wrote about the impact of technology - the telephone and the wireless - on society. He could equally well have been writing about social networking and the internet. He makes two points well worth reflecting on.
No scientific instrument has ever transformed society. It was always the soul of the society that transformed the scientific instrument. If it set the machinery to good work it is not because there is something good in machinery, but because there was something good already in the community that happened to use it. If it set the machinery to bad work, it is not because there was anything bad about machinery, but because there was something very bad about that portion of humanity. A machine is used mildly by a mild society; it is used wildly by a wild society; it is not used at all by a lazy or stagnant society.
Everybody is talking, with a not unnatural excitement, about the wonderful opportunity which this machinery will give us to send our words to a very remote continent, as if it were to the next street. Nobody seems very much concerned to ask whether we have anything particular to say even to the next street, let alone to the remote continent. . . It is the beginning of all true criticism of our time to realise that it has really nothing to say, at the very moment when it has invented so tremendous a trumpet for saying it.