Where am I? Same place I’ve always been – offline & in real time.
But I want to tell a story before I drift further away from most of my social media accounts.
I was a reluctant convert to the Book of Faces.
Yet, before long, I enjoyed feeling connected with people from my past and present.
It’s joyful to observe the photos of vacations and kids’ first days of school, pictures of people I will never meet growing up before my eyes.
Over time, though, I started to have an icky feeling about the direction these platforms are going.
Fewer puppies and babies.
More evidence of attention engineering.
More ads, and my ads are different from your ads.
Each feed is a world unto itself.
I noticed less meaningful interaction between me and my friends.
Just…scroll, click an emoji, maybe share a comment.
In digital marketing, when humans do this, it’s labeled “engagement.” Companies invest millions to create a hunger in their users, a hunger to get more “engagement.”
Because I’m not an engaging nor frequent user, I started to notice a decreasing subset of available content. Of hundreds of connected accounts, I seemed to see the same handful of names. Why was the software deciding for me what I wanted to see?
Oh, and how I hated the mental calculus that I did sometimes before posting: What will my “friends” think of “me”? What will the algorithm “think” of “me”? Is this clever combination of words and visuals something they’ll “like”?
I started to feel more and more like I was in the plot of a “Black Mirror” episode or The Matrix. Not in a good way.
I was definitely experiencing less of what brought me to social media in the first place.
I always knew I was paying a price. I understood I wasn’t getting something for nothing.
It’s a devil’s bargain, choosing to hang out with a computerized salesperson in exchange for sporadic posts from my friends, family, and acquaintances, but one I was willing to make.
Until I wasn’t.
We pay for social media software. We are the product being sold.
For me, the price ain’t worth it anymore.
The obvious prices I pay as a “user” are donating free content to feed the algorithm, my attention, and details about my life…details about my kids’ lives. Future…users? What does the machine already think it knows about people who haven’t even signed up for an account?
The other price I pay as a “user” is the phantom sensation that I have an abundance of real relationships simply because I have a stream of familiar faces available 24/7.
I knew each of you once in some way…or maybe I didn’t, not really.
Yet you’re all familiar enough to make logging into social media compelling.
Social media companies understand the power of familiarity, how it amplifies trust. After all, they know more about human behavior than most humans do. They use our nature to build systems that drive behavior that often flies below the radar of cognitive detection. We think we’re in charge. It’s part of the (de)illusion.
The algorithm feeds the users content.
It observes me always, adjusting my diet of inputs based on what I disclose, even something as subtle as a whisper of a thumb reversal or a pause. Same for each of us, which is why your feed or “suggestions” are different from mine and the people you live with and the feed prepared for your neighbor.
Computers decide whether you see my posts depending on whether I’m valuable enough to the algorithm.
Am I interesting enough to keep others feeding, too?
Interesting that something in our feeds could “go” “viral.” (Like…viruses are a good thing? Sure. Good for the virus.)
The algorithm has one job.
Companies and their teams and their programs and their investors endeavor enthusiastically to keep us logging in, the more the better (for them). They study and storyboard and test and collect and analyze, bringing to life an experience that generates the sensation that being online will satisfy our most essential social hunger to feel seen, loved, and accepted.
Each of us sees a world that is crafted for us, a digital construct designed to push our human buttons.
Not dissimilar to the design of slot machines and rats in mazes chasing cocaine instead of cheese.
I am so very hungry for something nourishing and real, not this machine-calibrated life.
I don’t want to eat what the algorithm serves me anymore. I don’t want to feed it anymore either.
I want to rediscover what else is on the menu.
I don’t want my relationships with other humans to be manipulated by sketchy corporations in pursuit of profit.
I don’t want a pixelated approximation of friendship.
The fact that it seems socially risky to exit a computer algorithm is exactly the reason for me to go.
Sending much love to each of you.
Perhaps we’ll connect another way and have a meaningful human conversation. 💖
P.S. Here are some of the books that influenced my migration away from Facebook & Twitter:
- “You’ve Been Played : How Corporations, Governments, and Schools Use Games to Control Us All”
- “The Chaos Machine: The Inside Story of How Social Media Rewired Our Minds and Our World”
- “Zucked: Waking up to the Facebook Catastrophe”
- “Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do”
- “Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness”