So, I’ve been reading about the perils of social media for quite a while now and since I’m of a…cough cough…’older’ generation, I’ve seen its affects on people first hand and how different our society has become in the last 10 years with it. I’ve also debated whether or not to heed the warnings of the many researchers out there and am wondering WHY quitting social media is such a difficult thing to do (especially if you’re Kylie Jenner 😳).
One of my favorite books about the topic is “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now” by Jaron Lanier. In it, he talks about very compelling reasons to do this and one that stuck out to me in particular is how social media is causing us to lose our free will.
When social media first reared its head in the early 2000’s, I truly thought this would be a catalyst for bringing people together and breaking down social barriers…I was wrong. In my experience, it’s actually done the opposite: for example, people aren’t allowed to have political opinions outside of the parameters of their ‘friends’. And if you do? “I’m going to block you, you %$#$@ since you don’t think and believe what I do. If your opinion isn’t my opinion, you’re wrong.” Heh? We’ve become even more short-sighted than ever in that we have to follow THE opinions of the day and not necessarily our own. And if we do put ours out there? Get ready to lose friends, colleagues, etc. Now you tell me…how is that breaking down barriers? Isn’t that just making us all ‘sheep’ and when we’ve come to a place in our society where we feel we aren’t allowed to speak our opinion, isn’t that digression as opposed to progression? (OMG…I just read that last sentence and I sound so freaking smart! 🙄)
Then, along the lines of losing our free will, we are also being put into smaller and smaller boxes. I talk a lot about boxes in my sociology classes. I believe that we are ‘boxed’ from the first moments of our life: class boxes, gender boxes, race boxes, etc. Isn’t social media just another box? Nothing makes you feel worse about the taxes you owe than seeing ‘friends’ from high school going on their 45th cruise in 2 years. And, look at your friends list…and others. Aren’t they pretty much segregated? Yes, some whites have black friends and vice versa; however, around 75% of whites don’t have any black friends on social media and for blacks, it’s around 66% who don’t have any white friends (PPRI, 2014). I don’t think that’s ‘bringing us together’…right?
I also resonate with Lanier’s suggestion we are being followed in more ways than one, and so many other researchers (as well as ex-social media employees/engineers/creators) say the same: algorithms are put in place to make sure you stay on social media: you wait for the next squirt of dopamine regarding social media posts…you are shown what you are most likely to buy…you are shown a skewed side of politics…you are ‘fed’ what FB and others want you to eat. In other words, social media controls us…not the other way around.
And I sometimes get told I need to be in the ‘cage’ more! Ma will leave a comment about something and then ask me if I’ve read it. When I say no she asks why I haven’t yet. “Well, ma…I’m not on my phone all the time! I like to turn it off and take breaks. You know, for my sanity and all.” Or, I find out about milestones in my family on FB and wonder when we started to find it ‘normal’ to learn about these personal things in such a public arena. And if I haven’t been ‘on’ FB for a few days, I’m not in the loop and too bad for me. Hmmm. Wouldn’t the ‘loop’ be better if we actually talked?
I know we are all busy…trust me, teaching 8 classes keeps me on my toes. But since the average American spends about 2 hours a day just on social media, I can’t help but think if we weren’t on social media using this time, we’d have the opportunity to eat lunch together or shop together or get together in person.
Another interesting read is from medium.com called “How Technology is Highjacking Your Mind” by Tristan Harris. In this paper, he talks about how technology is taking over and running our lives in so many different ways; in terms of social media he says that one of the ‘hijacks’ is how we fear missing something important if we do get off of the platform. Are we going to miss a cool video? Or being in the middle of a ‘popular’ discussion? Or not getting an invite to an event? Or not getting to have even more potential friends? Hmmmm. Is this what keeps us chained? Our fear of being left out?
We are social animals and we have to be. Most animals can care for themselves very early in life and we can’t…we have to get along and interact in groups from the beginning because of one pesky need we have: to survive. And this need for belongingness has no end…everyone needs connections and after so many years of use, social media accounts have become THE connection for so many. Can we ‘live’ without it?
I know that when I’m down, posting things and getting ‘likes’ and comments gives me a sense of validation. But think about that. Validation from people having spent less than half a second touching the ‘like’ icon. Seriously? THAT’s our validation? Having a blue thumbs up? Hmmm. I’ve come a long way in a couple of years and if I haven’t learned anything else, I’ve learned this (this is going to sound very Oprah-ish): NOTHING anyone says about you means as much as what YOU say about you (I’m going to copyright this sentence 😐). So, someone from school that was too snotty to talk to me then when I was their peer suddenly ‘likes’ my pic so all is good in the world? No. It’s not. When did external validation become so sought after? So coveted?
In his article, Harris talks about Cornell professor Brian Wansink who showed how you can trick people into eating more and more soup by giving them a bottomless bowl that will stay filled regardless of how much they eat. With these, people ate 73% more calories than those that had regular bowls but underestimated this calorie count by almost 150. Isn’t social media the same? It’s our bottomless bowl of videos, quotes, pics, etc. We’ll never ever see it all…so we keep coming back for more and more. But, after our hour or so of swiping is up, what do we really have? An hour watching others live their social media lives (not necessarily real lives) while we pause our own? Hmmm.
So, I’m going to be off social media for a time and deactivate FB (while still maintaining messenger for texts). I don’t know why it’s giving me a weird feeling to do so…it’s an app! A screen. But deactivating it feels like I’m really making a sacrifice. That, if not anything else, shows me how addictive it is and how well the companies that run these social media platforms have us at their mercies.
Goodness…what will I do with those saved hours every week? Hmmmm…quilt? Make string art? Start painting again? Walk Eddie more? Run more? Read more? Be naughty more? Blog more? The possibilities are endless and if you want, please check in with this blog from time to time…I love having you here and writing is such a passion of mine. This is something I’ll never give up. 😍