Web 2.0 was all about changing the Internet from a solitary experience to one in which you are a consumer of content to one in which you are creating and sharing as par for the course.
Today’s social media took it to an extreme. Tweets drive Twitter. Facebook made sharing cat pictures and status with your friends easier, before making it difficult to see unless you opt-in twice, once by liking and once by saying, “Yes, I mean it, I want to see this account’s updates, please.” Pinterest became a huge force in its own right, and it’s all about pinning interesting things you find elsewhere.
Recently I’ve been seeing quite a bit written about the downsides of social media. Steve Pavlina wrote last month about taking a year off from social media and feeling much more conscious and in control of his life. He could concentrate on what’s important, such as planning out how he was going to accomplish important goals.
Social media gives us instant feel-good rewards for doing next to nothing of value. When those rewards are no longer so easily accessible, we have to work harder for those same feelings. When we accomplish something meaningful to create that dopamine surge, the feelings can positively guide our behavior, and those feelings can stack up and create lasting motivation to tackle more sizable goals and projects.
MMO designer and author Brian Green of Pscyhochild’s Blog is writing daily posts for Blaugust, and he’s focusing on what he doesn’t like about social media this week, analyzing how it works and what the repercussions are for discourse in society.
…the nature of social media is that it polarizes people. Often if someone doesn’t appear to directly support a position, some assume they must support the opposite and are therefore the Great Satan. Nuanced views are often looked at with suspicion. This causes a lot of frustration, as it closes off useful discussion.
While I’m a fan of social media, I find myself agreeing. I’ve had to make the decision to stop checking Facebook first thing in the morning because I found it to be a time suck. I get more important things accomplished when I focus on them than on seeing what funny video was shared today or what notifications I should check. It took me awhile to resist the urge to type “f+TAB+Enter” in my browser first thing when I sit in front of the computer, since Facebook showed up as the first entry every time. I find myself checking notifications on Twitter on my phone throughout the day, and when my app is not pushing them, I go in and check anyway in case the notification function is broken. It’s bizarre and makes it hard to concentrate.
And the content is generally terrible. <insert picture of Grumpy Cat here>
I see clickbait headlines that promise things that will blow my mind that usually garner no more than a shrug, yet I’ve already clicked on the bait and wasted my time. At some point, I got fatigued by it and stopped clicking, but I admit it took me awhile to catch on.
I see friends posting hateful statements in public view that they would never say in person, or at least I would hope they wouldn’t.
Every so often I see something genuinely inspirational, but it can be buried among the vapid motivational quotes and celebrity put-downs.
Why do we spend so much of our time actively looking at this stuff? And why do we seem to keep distracting ourselves with it when we know we have more important things to do? How else is it changing our behavior?
Social media makes it easier to share, but I get confused by the work flow of blog readers these days. Someone will click on a link in Facebook or Google+ to a blog post, read the post, then instead of commenting at the bottom of the actual blog post, they go back to the social media platform they came from and comment there. And the thing is, I do this, too. Instead of treating the blog post as the source of the conversation, it’s as if it is the social media platform that is the driver and the blog is a temporary stop.
I actually miss the old days when bloggers would write comments on each other’s blogs, when a response to your post would as often as not be a post on someone else’s blog linked back to yours instead of disappearing into the hard-to-find social media comments section.
I miss people blogging because they had something to say, not because they were part of a blogging collective interested in selling you on some narrative, trying to get you to see and click on ads while giving you feel-good or feel-angry notions for a few seconds until you click on the next thing.
All that said, social media is probably here to stay, and luckily it is amazing because while it can seem like nothing but pictures of breakfast and pithy sayings to some, it means getting around authoritarian censorship for others. That is, real and dangerous censorship, not the kind that people made up to mean they don’t like the consequences of their free speech. It means keeping in touch with people you met at a conference. It means meeting new, like-minded people.
Social media allows the invisible to become visible. Hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter are used to raise awareness of racial injustice. Many people of privilege are more aware that they even have privilege than before. Major accomplishments in science, such as NASA’s New Horizons flyby of Pluto, means a lot of excitement and hope for humanity that may translate into children today becoming the scientists of tomorrow. People no longer limit their social circles to geographic locations, which is great for us in the flyover states.
So, there’s a lot of good in social media as well.
But social media makes all of us publishers. Did we waste each other’s time with what we put out into the world? Will we be proud of it when we look back?
Or will we simultaneously feel glad that no one can easily find it a few days after we hit the Share button and feel worried that it’s out there for someone to find if they really dig for it?