Imagine an experiment in which a lab rat is running through a maze, hoping to find a bit of cheese at the end. The creature will go to great lengths to achieve that small dopamine hit, and to avoid the electric shock at the end of the wrong path.
As simplistic as this scenario seems, we as humans are very much like the laboratory rat when we engage with social media. We receive positive feedback, such as likes, and comments–little squirts of dopamine that light up our brain, quite similar to sugar, gambling, and heroine. We also receive negative feedback, such as radio silence and the highlight reel of someone who’s prettier, wealthier, and presumably more fun that us. Both the negative and positive feedback can influence our behavior in significant ways.
Quitting social media means beating the addition, making a political statement, defining social life, and giving the big companies an opportunity to restructure into a more mutually-beneficial entity.
American computer philosophy writer and computer scientist Jaron Lanier believes that society tends to view Facebook as a government-like structure that informs who we should connect with, which events we should attend, and whose stories are most valuable for us to read. People think that Facebook is something that we need to use. However, Facebook is not a democracy, and the user ultimately has little influence on how the site evolves, according to figures such as Facebook’s former President, Sean Parker.
“Facebook excels at applying addictive design techniques more than it does in innovating value that the internet can offer.”
-Jaron Lanier, Be a pioneer – delete Facebook
Jaron refers to social networking site and search engines as “behavior modification empires,” insisting that that the current state of affairs is based on a bad decision three decades ago, rather than evil companies. The poor decision was to build the internet out as a public commons with free and equal access to resources, while also supporting the technology entrepreneurs who were looking to make a profit. Many early innovators look back with regret, realizing now that their dreams of freely-accessible information carried a cost for the user: invasions of privacy and invisible behavioral modification.
Imagine a hypothetical world of “peak social media,” which would mirror the offerings and convenience services like Netflix and Spotify. What might that look like? Jaron suggest that if social media sites were to emulate the subscription or micro-payment platforms, you would have access to useful, authoritative medical advice instead of pseudo-experts. It might mean that you could get factual information, rather than a bunch of weird conspiracy theories or fake news. The world of “peak social media” is a wonderful possibility, and many technology leader believe that it is, in fact, possible.
However, reaching this pinnacle of human-technology interaction will require that we remake the internet. It’s likely that the companies, like Google and Facebook, would actually do even better in this world if they were to implement a model that serves the customer at a small cost, rather than sucking and selling the data of users.
Study after study as shown that humans are feeling more isolated and depressed than ever before. Online interactions often lack the depth of true friendship, and stymie us from engaging our real lives in meaningful ways. Rather than attending an art show, visiting a coffee shop or meeting up with online friends, we scroll hopelessly for hours waiting for that next little hit of dopamine.
Jaron Lanier’s latest book is set for release in May 2018: Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. The book will elaborate and dig into the following pillar arguments on why your life will be better when you choose to leave these behavior modification empires in favor of true connections.
Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now
- You are losing your free will.
- Quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times.
- Social media is making you into an asshole.
- Social media is undermining truth.
- Social media is making what you say meaningless.
- Social media is destroying your capacity for empathy.
- Social media is making you unhappy.
- Social media doesn’t want you to have economic dignity.
- Social media is making politics impossible.
- Social media hates your soul.
I deleted every social media account with the exception of Facebook in 2014, and I’ve been inactive on Facebook during that time period. In fact, I deleted all data–status updates, photos, comments, likes on other peoples’ status, events attended, and more–and have have all but hit the “delete” button.
I can tell you from personal experience, I don’t miss the news stream on Twitter and deleting LinkedIn hasn’t made me unemployable; without Instagram and Pinterest, I’ve learned to find beauty in my own life; I remember which books I’ve read without GoodReads, and can still download my favorite songs without Spotify. Life has gone on, and I can definitely saw I’m happier and less anxious than I’ve ever been.
I’ll be pulling the final plug on Facebook this weekend, after collecting the contact info of a few friends. I don’t think I’ve ever anticipated another digital milestone as much as this. The reason that I’m excited is that I am giving myself the opportunity to invent a life that is not reliant on Facebook. I get to be a pioneer, exploring a new land and blazing the way for others. I could be an example to others of what life could be like without Facebook.
Our current pace and direction, as it relates to social media, is going to be our demise if we don’t make some serious changes. The current model is unsustainable.
We cannot have a society in which, if two people wish to communicate, the only way that can happen is if it’s financed by a third person who wishes to manipulate them.
-Jaron Lanier, How we need to remake the internet
What are your thoughts? Do you still use social media and, if so, do you find value in it?