Today was a good read from Zach Baron, senior staff writer at GQ: The Conscience of Silicon Valley, Tech oracle Jaron Lanier warned us all about the evils of social media. Too few of us listened. Now, in the most chaotic of moments, his fears—and his bighearted solutions—are more urgent than ever.
Despite the lead of this speaking specifically to Lanier’s doom’n’gloom forecast of social media’s impact on us as a society and individuals he did have a line that I liked that I think I also share:
But, Lanier said, in light of the May and June protests in America, he was cautiously rethinking this part of his argument. If people were less passive, simply sitting and receiving whatever the feed vomited up on their social media platform of choice, and more active, using social media to organize and then show up in the streets, then, he said, “that’s a different world.” Lanier said he’d also observed something he’d never observed before, which is that the Black Lives Matter activism that had fed and nurtured itself on Facebook and Twitter was reconsidering those platforms in a way that felt constructive and different—that activists were actually holding the companies and their advertisers accountable for the hate speech and disinformation that flourished on their services. “It’s possible there could be a virtuous cycle this time,” Lanier said, in which “Black Lives Matter doesn’t get boomeranged and doesn’t have its energy turned back on itself. And if that happens, I would rejoice on many levels.”
His use of the word “active”, I think is important. During my time on Facebook and Twitter, I know that I lost many hours of my life to mindlessly scrolling through garbage that other people posted and the mysterious algorithm thought that me seeing that content would increase my engagement with the platform. That “engagement” was passive consumption instead of an active and, ideally, meaningful interaction with other human beings.
In recent years, I’ve been very critical of social media, specifically Facebook, with Twitter coming in as a close second. I have advocated for Mastodon as it, at least, decentralizes the control and ability to harvest user data, putting control into the hands of many instead of the hands of a few. However, I’m starting to come of the mind that maybe even Mastodon is only a solution to one problem, but still holds on to the rest.
Jaron Lanier, whose website I enjoy its design, has his most recent book: Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right now, which I’ll be putting on my to-read list, but I’m not sure I’ll put it too high up the list since I think he’ll be preaching to the choir at this point. However, take a look at the ten points, which are enumerated on the back of the book:
- 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.
Reading down this list, for the items that do not feel to have much in the way of ambiguity, I can think of specific examples in my own life that lead me to agree with them. #10 is one that is pretty subjective, so I’m not quite sure if Facebook objectively hates whatever abstraction is my “soul”, but the other items - yes. They all seem to be true. #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, and #9 are all covered by modern times with an American president politicizing a pandemic and spreading misinformation. One single example, and its easy to find how all of these statements are true. I look forward to reading this man’s book, and likely his older ones as well.