Is social media really ruining our generation?

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This image from Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera, released by the European Space Agency ESA on Thursday Nov. 13, 2014 shows the Philae lander a Wednesday Nov. 12, 2014 The image shows details of the lander, including the deployment of the three legs and of the antennas. The lander scored a historic first Wednesday, touching down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after a decade-long, 6.4 billion-kilometer (4 billion-mile) journey through space aboard its mother ship, Rosetta. The comet is streaking through space at 41,000 mph (66,000 kph) some 311 million miles (500 million kilometers) from Earth.
This image from Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera, released by the European Space Agency ESA on Thursday Nov. 13, 2014 shows the Philae lander a Wednesday Nov. 12, 2014 The image shows details of the lander, including the deployment of the three legs and of the antennas. The lander scored a historic first Wednesday, touching down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after a decade-long, 6.4 billion-kilometer (4 billion-mile) journey through space aboard its mother ship, Rosetta. The comet is streaking through space at 41,000 mph (66,000 kph) some 311 million miles (500 million kilometers) from Earth.

Wednesday saw an interesting unintentional experiment on the Internet. In an overt attempt to “Break the Internet,” PAPER magazine ran an article on Kim Kardashian featuring some more-than-scandalous photos. In the same 24 hours, the Rosetta mission landed Philae, an unmanned space probe, on a comet just 2.5 miles in diameter, a feat which CNET says is about as difficult as “trying to cling to that rolling Indiana Jones boulder with your fingernails.” Many feared that this historic achievement would go unnoticed by the social media generation, often accused of foregoing an interest in science for a fascination with flash and fame.

But as the Wall Street Journal noted Thursday, this same social media generation brought a pleasant surprise: The digi-verse was more animated by and had more positive sentiments about the comet landing. Kardashian only saw about 60 percent of the total tweets about the comet, of which the general sentiment was negative, ranging from feminist concerns to distress about the state of society today where provocative photos are newsworthy.

One reason that no doubt contributed to this social media response was Philae’s social media presence itself. Through Twitter, Philae updated the public on its progress with endearing tweets such as “I’m quite photogenic! That was one steep fall! Thanks for watching out for me during my #CometLanding.” The cosmic triumph even sparked the self-reflective hashtag #WeCanLandOnACometButWeCant, where twitter users finished the statement with seemingly elementary things that our society has failed in through misplaced priorities, calling attention to real priorities like affordable education, global warming, the gender wage gap, etc.

New technology is always met with a degree of hesitancy. Unsurprisingly, social media has traditionally been rejected as frivolous, disingenuous and unimportant. But this comet versus Kardashian showdown paints a new picture for the generation coming into power: We really do know what’s important; we just express it in a new way.

Haight is an associate editor.