Social Media December 2018

I think social media is a failed cultural experiment. By that I mean, at least here in North America, I think usage will go down over time rather than up. It seems more likely to end-game along the lines of smoking than it does to become some kind of taken-for-granted public good. I like to use a borrowed analogy for technologies that are unanimously good: we don’t call them technology anymore. Windows (the kind you see through), surgery and bicycles are so unapologetically good we don’t call them technology anymore: they just are. Social media will never get into that category in my opinion, instead it will fade into a social vice like smoking.

The reason I think it failed is basically that it doesn’t seem to make people’s lives better. It provides for cheap advertising, and enriches the platforms. Likewise, people seem to use it, which implies utility, but I believe there’s something deeper and worse about them that keep them in use. Network effects implicate that if all your friends and family do something, you culturally have to do it too. The problem is that in the past this meant group survival was more likely, but now it has been co-opted to mean that you have to do and be the same thing.

Doing and being the same thing as everyone you are friends and family with is harmful and weird when the world is collapsed into a singular mass. It means that everyone, literally, has to do and be the same. What that results in is polarization: an epic outgrouping process. How is it possible that as time goes on, 50% of people think that abortion is bad and 50% want socialism? I mean, regardless of how you feel, shouldn’t it be 49/51%? Assuming people think for themselves even a little bit, how did we end up with two “teams” with an equal bench?

The only explanation I can think of boils down to the network effects of social media. Studies have shown that over time, republicans delete their democrat friends and vice versa. Eventually you have two groups of people being aggressively forced to think the same. The problem is that those groups are made up of tons of subgroups, and culturally speaking the minority rules. So each mega-group of so called “right” and “left” thinkers end up adopting all kinds of weird rules to appease their many sub groups. I’m pretty sure there are more options than either 1. I park my truck in electric car parking spots and 2. I excommunicate you for not being an ethical vegan. In fact, there are basically all the other options occupied by 99.9% of 1997 people.

Social media seems to accelerate this descent into lowest common denominator politics. The problem is that no person agrees with all aspects of a particular political party. And most people will tell you this if you poll them on the street. For some reason though, our political options for the opinions we can safely share in the public forum are regulated by these politics. That goes away as soon as you stop hitting “reply all” on a public email list containing everyone you have ever met. You can start to express the nuance of your opinions. If you can’t, you will either start self-regulating and destroy your soul, or continue to be an individual and risk excommunication.

I haven’t had Facebook for years, or Twitter for a while. I have LinkedIn, but I resent it, I use it strictly to get the emails of people I could probably just ask anyway. I hope that the whole social media thing just self destructs and people go back to personal websites, email or messenger. It seems like people are in fact going back to those things. Might as well accelerate that instead.