Having grown up when the internet first began to flourish, I’ve always been positive about its developments and the potential it offers to future generations. From a pure information standpoint, prior generations would salivate over how much data can be extracted from the phones we so carelessly use to look at cat videos! Louie C.K. put it best with his tounge in cheek commentary about today’s generation and its relation technology.
I embrace the free exchange of information the internet offers, which is why I operate this blog and gladly volunteer my own thoughts. The concept of having your own public forum to air your ideas is an amazing one, albeit ridden with noise in today’s modern age. Nevertheless, there is an unlimited amount of space for us all. The same goes for video, which is why I enjoy running a YouTube channel as well.
I am positive about the developments of the Internet and hope to participate in as it continues to evolve. If I were to put a classification of myself I’d say that I’m a staunch apologist of the Internet with the exception of social media. Maybe I should say something like “the Internet is great!*”
Social media has always rubbed me the wrong way but I never sat down to think it out. My conclusion is that social media is the Internet equivalent of the carbon spewing, diesel exhaust you’ll see on an 18-wheeler barreling down the highway. I don’t take this comparison lightly as the consequences of social media for the Internet are no different than visible pollution of the atmosphere.
Before delving further, the main services I’ll be focusing on are Facebook and Instagram. I’ve had less experience with Twitter so don’t feel I can provide enough criticism due to limited exposure. I’ve followed some of the controversies surrounding Twitter on and off and wish to give it a try again. For my personal use I’ve felt a blog and YouTube channel make it easier to get my message across. Nevertheless, I’m open to trying Twitter again.
As a brief aside, I did mention I maintain a Youtube channel, which I don’t place into the social media category. YouTube is simply evolved television. We’ve lived with it before and it will continue to adapt around technological changes. It’s just a video version of a blog, hence the term vlog. YouTube is not free of criticism, however, I don’t find the same problems I wish to address.
My main issue is with the social media portion of the Internet. It’s the biggest Achilles heel of this technological change which has truly changed the world.
The main issue I have with Facebook is how it evolved. I don’t perceive Mr. Zuckerberg to be a Machiavellian schemer who ever expected his platform would turn into the monster it has become. If you look at this earlier videos, I think he was like any intelligent 20 something who wanted to build something “cool” using the brains and resources surrounding him.
If you take a step back and think about it, the person who is responsible for a platform so much associated with the term “social”, isn’t a stellar example of a social person. It’s no surprise then that this technology is also pushing people to become less social themselves. Now more than ever, Facebook should give itself a better face, and not that of Zuckerberg.
None of us should really be surprised that the person who developed such a technology appears out of touch with the common person. If there is any criticism I would make against him as a person, it would be to just be himself than pretending to appeal to the average person which he is not and will never be.
His testimony before Congress, which was more of a circus show than anything that would lead to material change was quite odd. His behavior, and especially the way he addressed the politicians felt more like a flashback to the 1950s than modern times. “Senator….yes Senator….”
How Facebook Works
For those who don’t understand how Facebook works (perhaps some of our fine senators may come across this blog for a lesson), the platform encourages people to connect to as many users as possible, share as much about themselves as possible, and “like” as many products, pages, things, etc about themselves. By doing so the user builds a profile of themselves that can be used for very effective and targeted marketing. The key point is participation; the more you give, the easier you are to market to.
To make it easier to digest the ads, Facebook has evolved to heavily revolve around the news feed. Using the same techniques that make slot machines addicting, the current news feed randomly distributes information you will enjoy consuming, which is why you don’t get all the posts from your closest friends all at once. Because of this randomness, you are incentivized to continue scrolling as the “payout” results in a hit of dopamine when you see something interesting.
A similar trick happens when something is shared, which benefits Facebook as you are volunteering more about yourself to better fit the targeted ads. In this case, the notifications from the post you share act as another dopamine drip feed, which can start to create a feedback loop that plants the seeds of technological addiction.
Similar to how fast food has been carefully designed to take advantage of our biological procilities for salt, sugar, and fat, in the above examples we can see how Facebook plays tricks on the brain’s reward system. In essence, Facebook and similar platforms are the equivalent of junk food for the brain.
Disagree? Think about your morning routine. If it involves checking Facebook, then you are addicted, albeit mildly. I went through this myself which is why I want to get away from it!
To take it a step further, see how many days you can go without checking your news feed. You will soon find gaps in your day where you found yourself checking. This is what happened to me. Over time I slowly replaced better habits with it, but the gap was very noticeable!
The main issue I have with Facebook, is that despite the classification, I consider it truly anti-social.
Facebook has a deeper level of intimacy associated with it than public blog posts such as this one, as you are only sharing information with your “friends.” But these are not your friends in the true sense of the word. These are family members, co-workers, chance encounters with people, and in some cases complete strangers. On the final point I would imagine most account holders probably have at least 5 complete strangers in their friend list who essentially can peer directly into their lives like a pervert looking through a bathroom peephole.
The implications are staggering! Someone you’ve never met has a very detailed and intimate glimpse of your life. That would be fine as a true friendship involves that level of intimacy, but imagine speaking about something personal with all of the friends of your friends, their family members, co-workers, and some other random strangers, all sitting on a stage with rows to seperate how you are connected. This is what happens when you share anything personal on Facebook.
For the reasons I described above, it cannot be a profitable enterprise if one were more easily able to compartmentalize their friend list based on associations. Yes, Facebook does allow you to group people and one can decide who to post to, but little effort is put into the system and in my view it is intentionally complicated because it doesn’t want to encourage a division of friends as it would water down how the data is distributed, thereby diminishing the financial returns.
To some extent we are all aware of this, whether we admit it or not. So how do most people handle what I’ve written above?
Due to the structure of Facebook I described, people tend to craft a highly edited version of their lives. This makes perfect sense and I don’t blame anyone for this, as only a handful of people I know would freely post about their chronic diarrhea.
There is, however, a caveat to this, whereby some users take advantage of their audience as a platform to receive psuedo-symphathy via likes, one of the most dangerous aspects of the platform. An example we’ve all seen is to leave a vague message such as
“Just left the hospital.”
“Not sure how I’ll be able to make it through this”
“What’s the point to this all???”
This is purely playing on people’s emotions as any sympathetic person will naturally reply to ask if the person is doing OK. For the initiator of the post, it sets a very dangerous precedent as it can lead to a type of addiction that runs across the modern day plotline of boy who cried wolf.
Not only is such a post highly manipulative, the vagueness of the message makes it difficult to determine the true intentions of the person. Thinking logically, if someone truly were in need, would they really seek the public forum of Facebook for their help?
I can’t emphasize that this is one of the biggest dangers of Facebook, namely that it allows anyone to be the emotional puppet master of their audience. Giving that to the masses never ends well.
Yet even though this is more “honest” and “open communication” than profile crafting, it really isn’t genuine at all.
The compromise most make as I’ve alluded to, is to craft a profile of yourself most consumable to your base of “friends”. That is fine but it tends to leave out all the negatives that make a true person, for we are shaped far more by our defeats, failures and setbacks than successes. In many case, achievements are the result of overcoming such defeats.
Furthermore, it is the shared intimacy of these failures and ultimate overcomings that make for a true connection and friendship, none of which can happen online. Such intimacy is quite dangerous, in fact, for it can only hurt you if your boss and co-workers know about some personal struggle.
So just like some celebrity, which is what Facebook encourages you to become your own version of, you are only seeing a sliver of the lives of people on Facebook. And when a celebrity dies at a young age of a drug overdose, the fans are shocked. How could this happen they ask, when they had everything? Well, the answer is that they didn’t, but how could you expect to know as you only saw a small glimpse of their lives. You have the same level of intimacy with those on Facebook.
Studies have shown that people suffer depression as they consume more and more of Facebook. This makes perfect sense if you are constantly viewing a carefully crafted viewpoint of other people’s lives all day without actually getting to know them. You will naturally feel of less value, it is almost like subjecting yourself to some form of torture.
To take this to an extreme, look at the Forbes list of billionaires. You’ll notice first that this list is not permanent, so even if you are worth X billion of dollars, there could be someone worth more, you’d feel poor from a relative standpoint if you saw this billionaire’s larger mansion, or private jet. Secondly, because the list changes, even if you are on top, you most definitely will not be forever. From a practical standpoint, if you are a woman your beauty will fade; a man your strength will deplete, perhaps you’ll lose money in the future or have a career setback. All of these circumstances fly against the face of the pseudo-profile crafting Facebook users must adapt to. And for what? For intangible blue thumbs and hearts. The people in your life who matter do not need to show blue thumbs to show they care.
Even worse, suicide rates among pre-teen girls has risen dramatically in the past decade. Although many factors are at play, social media is seen as a contributing factor.
I don’t care how others use social media, the purpose of this article was originally so I could better understand why this aspect of the Internet rubbed me the wrong way. I recently wrote about the survelliance state in East Germany, offering suggestions.
I still prefer to keep a Facebook account but mostly as a messaging service and a way to see what’s going on with my family.
Let me know your thoughts.