I have never met anyone whose life is truly enriched thanks to social media. I’ve met plenty of people whose life seems worse due to it.
People, what are we still doing here? It’s time we accept social media is a failed experiment.
My social media interactions
I’ve had only a fleeting relationship with social media over the years. The fundamental premise of social media has never sat well with me. The idea that you would publicly share trivial, yet intimate details of your life with complete strangers, goes against every natural instinct I have. This feeling is exemplified by my limited social media usage:
I managed one day on Facebook before deleting my account – that was back at the beginning of Facebook. I managed a little longer on Instagram; a month or so.
I have had a Twitter account for much longer though.
I recognise I am not typical in this respect. It’s perhaps therefore far easier for me to renounce social media. However, I think my conviction in this regard is in large part because I am old enough to remember social interaction before social media. I’m convinced it was better before. I’m confident this isn’t just the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia.
I opened a Twitter account from the outset primarily to promote my writing. This was my tech books for the most part but, at the time I joined (2011?), Twitter had also become the de-facto place to announce a blog posts to the world. You have to be on social media people told me. People are ditching RSS they said. And so I did my best to play ball.
My followers on Twitter, while limited in numbers (approx 4000 at time of writing) include many web professionals I greatly admire.
At the beginning of using Twitter, seeing peers I had learned so much from over the years ‘follow’ me offered some kind of vindication for my work.
In the subsequent years of using Twitter, there were points when having a Tweet or link to a post I’d written tweeted by a ‘big-hitter’ luminary would send my ‘like’ notifications into relative meltdown giving me ‘something’; perhaps social media’s closest thing to euphoria?
At the other end of the scale, while I have suffered nothing like the horror-show trolling I’m aware others have suffered. I’ve always felt discourse on social media has been the lowest value discourse I have engaged in.
The biggest failings of discourse by social media became apparent when trying to discuss topics with peers. As an illustration, compare and contrast: Tyler Sticka wrote a post on the CloudFours blog about icon fonts. I had some counter-points and wrote a blog post in response. Tyler commented on this. He showed me respect and I had the utmost for him. Adults discussing something like er… adults. All good.
The same subject was ‘debated’ on Twitter with other high-profile web professionals. Detail was lost, nuance was lacking. It was, as far as I am concerned, utterly pointless. It’s hard enough to navigate differences of opinion by email, where tone and intention can be misconstrued. With a limited character count I found it futile. There’s also a weird thing on Twitter where follower count seems to play into the validity of someone’s argument and opinion. And I find that stinks of bullshit.
I think on-line forums are the best medium to discuss things of this nature. I remember vBulletin boards and the like were all the rage a few years ago and I think social media largely killed their use off. I think that was an error. I’d love to see a resurgence of their use.
You’re paying but are you getting your moneys worth?
It’s seems so redundant to point out but we are all creating the content that keeps social media platforms going. If I think objectively about it, the time I spend looking at social media and sometimes posting, doesn’t seem like a good investment. Sure, there are occasional funnies but none of the things I see couldn’t be better consumed in a different way.
The drip, drip of social media is just completely inefficient. The more we interact with each other and consume content this way, the more order and civility we have taken centuries to carve out, we seem to lose. We, as humans, are losing the ability to batch process tasks. We’re training ourselves to feed on drips of content. Notifications on our handsets turning us all into so many Pavlovian dogs.
We check in on social media while making a drink, nipping to the loo, waiting for the train, waiting for our coffee to be poured, in the moment it takes our children to search for their reading book or brush their teeth (seriously Ben, you’re an idiot) etc.
Does that stop us checking again in 5 minutes? Nope, we just check again at the next 10 spare seconds that come along. Instead of ever being completely in the moment, this clamour for ‘something’ is mentally tugging at us; some weird inescapable urge to see if anything happened (note: it didn’t).
Add that all up. The small and transient highs of ‘good’ social media interaction in no way compensate for the hours invested. At least not for me.
And that’s primarily when we are with ourselves. What about how we use when amongst others?
Consider this scenario. You’re sat with one other person having a drink and talking. Your phones are, inevitably on the table. Like two modern-day gun-slingers ready to ‘draw’ as soon as a buzz is heard.
A notification comes through and both parties glance down. And here’s the thing. More often than not, we are disappointed when it isn’t our phone buzzing! Not because we are expecting something important, just because!
Sometimes, whatever is buzzed through is interesting enough that we just pick it up and engage with that instead for a moment. Sometimes it is not. We should be annoyed at the intrusion but subconsciously at least, I think we often welcome it.
What are we actually saying to the other person here? I think, whether we mean to or not, we are basically saying, “I’ll converse with you, but regardless of what you say, if anything more interesting pops up, I’m ditching you for a few seconds”.
Is that how much we value the other person sat with us?
Setting examples to the next generation
When it comes to children I have two issues around social media: privacy and the problem we just considered; being in the moment.
I have children. Unless I have done something wrong, you won’t easily know what their names are, how old they are or what they look like.
This is because they are children. They have a right to anonymity and I consider it my responsibility to provide it until they can do so themselves. At some point they may make the decision to change that but I won’t be making that decision for them.
Parents need to ask themselves some serious questions here. Weigh up the delight you get of comments/likes from your followers/friends on social media when you post a picture of your kids against their basic human right for privacy. How would you have liked getting to 16 years of age and having countless episodes from your ‘private’ life exposed and searchable by anyone?
Think about that.
We are bringing up the first generation of humans, outside of an oppressive regime, that don’t have a basic human right of a private personal life as a given.
The other consideration is that I’m sometimes not in the moment. There are occasions one can’t be in the moment. But reading/posting something on social media is not one of them.
Confession. I’ve found myself sneaking a look at my phone whilst my child reads aloud to me. There is so much wrong with that tiny action I don’t know where to start. You know that, right?
If our children see that every time Dad waits for something he needs his phone, what are we teaching them? Kids pay far more attention to what they see us do compared to what we tell them to do.
What are we teaching the next generation? That all moments should be filled consuming something? That someone is only worthy of your time until something better comes along?
The endless pursuit of vapid information and interaction is destroying the fundamental utility of sharing time and conversation with others.
Moments of nothing
Social media is stealing the respite our brains need. When I wait 10 seconds for a drink, why can I no longer just wait? Simply alone with mere thoughts.
When we wait longer than just a few seconds, we are no longer just pondering. Every possible spare brain cycle is being used for consumption. Nothing left for just thinking – thinking without input.
Intuitively, I feel that is a misstep. I think there is great utility is ‘letting your brain breathe’. I can’t categorically tell you why. I just feel it.
I think if you are honest with yourself, you feel it too?
I don’t know where all this leads me other than the title of this post. I feel, now more than ever, that Social Media is a failed experiment. Rather than bringing people together I feel that, for the most part, it pushes them apart.
Instagram has become the de facto app for generating ‘fear of missing out’. At best it seems to incubate resentment for the (admitted fallacy) of others ‘perfect’ lives. I’m not sure what I would substitute it for as it doesn’t fulfil any need I have.
I don’t have any direct experience with Facebook other than the observation that people I know that spend any degree of time on Facebook seem to be continually falling out with other people on Facebook! It seems to be the go-to location for tittle-tattle and small-minded mud-slinging.
Twitter seems little more than an announcement platform. There are moments it comes into its own, such as live incidents or response to current events. Sadly this is usually some manner of tragedy. However, day-to-day, it does nothing for me that an RSS feed doesn’t do better. Or, for lots of small snippets of information I find far more utility in newsletters.
Where do I go from here? Firstly, I need to extricate myself from Twitter. I also harbour desires to ditch the iPhone and move to a Classic/Feature phone. But I
need want Audible for my commute. I need email. Above all, I really don’t want to do without the convenience of a decent camera/video. Perhaps though, that would also help me experience a moment rather than trying to capture it? I’m not quite there yet.
But I’m striving to.