Face Down In The Cesspool

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-08-23 23:00:00 No comments

A year and change ago, I mostly quit commercial social media. I don't think that's likely to change.

Barring an attempt earlier this year to re-engage on my own terms — a mostly failed experiment — I've given up on Facebook and Twitter as things to use directly or interact with directly.

My reasons for all this remain simple:

1) Commercial social media — primarily Facebook and Twitter — gamify and monetize human interaction in ways that are profoundly toxic to people's psychic well-being.

2) None of this is going to get better on its own, because the people in charge of it have no incentive to improve it. We're better off just walking away from all of it.

Some clarification about the technical details for my usage. Me pulling back from social media has a few exceptions, such as managing the few pages on Facebook I control. When I post to them, the overwhelming majority of the time it's because some script somewhere has picked up a blog post I've made here and reposted it. I still open up Twitter from time to time, but each time I do so the gap between such interactions gets longer and longer. That's progress.

Having your friends on those services is no compensation for their fundamental badness. In fact, the presence of friends in such an environment only seems to hasten the degeneration, because you have to bear witness to the awful spectacle of people you love being drowned face-down in a pool of attention-seeking, validation-hungering, and flattery-hungry behavior. Worse, you often have to endure that as being one of the costs of interacting with such people at all, especially if they're on the other side of the country or what have you.

We all need a little validation or flattery in our lives, but to have literally every single social interaction we have with the people we know revolve around such things, and be designed to revolve around such things?

In the entire time I've been using commercial social media (CSM for short), I've never seen anything to suggest there was a solution to this problem in the works. It's only gotten worse. I don't need to go into the details; odds are you know it far more intimately than I do.

Why are these things so pervasively awful? The only conclusion I can come to is that they're built that way, because we are the product. The end goal of these services is to manipulate daily human life to be all the more monetizable. Seen through that lens, all the negative consequences of social media make sense: if the majority of us are bunch of scroll-happy clickbait addicts, a few people at the top of that pyramid scheme stand to rake it in big.

I'm in a weird position in that as a writer, I'm expected to have at least some activity on social media. Once upon a time, you were expected to have a blog, and that remains my default fallback for establishing an online presence. But the sheer proliferation of services — the thing du jour is Instagram? or Snapchat, I guess? who the hell knows anymore? — means you spend a tiresome amount of time trying to keep up, when you could be actually creating something.

So my default, once again, is to keep a blog, and to plug into that whatever services are all the rage. Assuming, that is, they permit such things at all. G+, for instance, did not, and that's probably why I haven't bothered with it in any form since its inception. Do you know anyone who does?

There's a few things out there I bother with, mostly for the sake of my day job. Various subreddits are still worth reading. Hacker News does a good job of being self-curating. But the problem remains that most of the people I want to talk to in some form have made as their primary mode of public interaction a set of services that made dealing even with the people I like a total chore.

What bugs me most about this is the sheer scope and intractability of the problem. It isn't going to be solved by a policy change on Twitter's part to better deal with harassment or a cleverer algorithm on Facebook's part to flag fake news. Nor, I think, is it going to be solved by "alternative" services like Mastodon — although it would be nice if it did, but I know now all too well that's just the techno-idealist in me speaking.

The only real, lasting solution comes when people realize this crap isn't worth the trouble, quit feeding the beast, and go back to dealing with each other in a far less weaponized and weaponizable way.

And I want a pony.

Tags: Facebook Twitter social media sociology technology