It’s odd to think about how quickly our culture became mediated by digital technology. I started up a blog soon after moving to Hawaii to keep friends and family back home aware of my life. Facebook took on that role, too, though it added graduates into the mix. Like many others, I found Instagram to be an interestingly creative approach to picture taking (though I still can’t take a great picture of the food I’m about to eat). Twitter became a way for me to, for lack of a better term, eavesdrop on writers and movie-makers and organizations that really pushed me creatively and spiritually. Compared to Facebook and Instagram, Twitter was a real social wasteland, though. For every one hundred Facebook friends, I found one friend who was actively tweeting or re-tweeting. I drew the line at SnapChat. Even though I have friends who use the app well, mostly for extended family things, it was just a bridge too far for me.
These days, Facebook is mostly for mindless scrolling or for communicating with friends from afar (often to organize actual face-time when traveling). Instagram is mostly for travel “documentation.” I’ve tried reaching out to various people that I share professional or spiritual interests with using Twitter, but that’s always hit or miss. Part of the tension is a matter of the platform’s purpose, which is why older adults have adopted Facebook even as young adults have dropped it in droves. Part of it is a matter of personality (which is also tied to platform). Twitter often serves as a platform for self-promotion, where like-minded people do find each other, but where you need a certain amount of digital-social capital to thrive. I try and post links to my blog on Twitter, but I don’t always have an easy time posting personal things to that timeline. It requires an intensity and a pithiness that I often can’t seem to muster. Oddly enough, most of my random hits on this blog come from people looking for logical fallacies (which I mention often because of classes and comics).
I say all of this because all of this served as my background for reading Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. It’s something that I’ve toyed with often, giving up social media (and to a lesser extent, some kinds of technology). There’s always a reason, though, to keep an account open here or there. And while Lanier easily admits that some people’s lives truly are better off because of social media, many people’s lives would be better if they were off social media. There are economic reasons for this (as Lanier asserts that “social media does not want you to have economic dignity” because it would rather make money off of your data than to pay your for your content). There are personal reasons for this (we are losing our free will, our empathy, and our happiness to digital life). And questions of truth, meaning, and the life of the soul that an embrace of social media begs us to deal with (or perhaps would prefer us to ignore).
I imagine that most people have already made up their minds about social media. They have 10 pictures posted to Instagram compared to my 275. Or they have no reason for a camera phone at all. Facebook is for family life with a sprinkling of friendship. On good days, Twitter is for pats-on-the-back for good content (and oh how I need pats on the back!) or for a self-justifying echo chamber of rage when issues of social significance flare up . . . which is almost every day. Maybe it’s a war of attrition, or maybe it’s as close to a peace treaty with the 21st century that we can get or allow ourselves. Interestingly, a number of Christians make a point of giving up social media for Lent or for the Christmas season, a kind of sabbatical from some emotionally hard work. It’s an understandable thing to do (and it’s always interesting when someone “breaks their fast” because of significant ideas or publications that might pop up in the meantime).
I haven’t said much about Lanier’s book in this post, oddly enough. Lanier is right, I think. And even though the book’s title doesn’t leave much wiggle room, there are moments in the actual book where he “makes allowances” for social media in day-to-day life. Because there are days where the good outweighs the bad, where you find people you really want to take the risk of getting to know, where you article you might never have found otherwise shows up in your timeline and makes your day. For those who cannot quit social media cold turkey, the book is a call to wisdom, to at least be more aware of what is going on in your mind and heart as you share your data and the intimate moments of your life with big companies and your circle of digital friends.
Lanier’s best argument in the book ends up being about a deeper reason for giving up social media. Lanier doesn’t like the “locked in” nature of particular platforms and processes (most evident in his economic concerns). The only way to get over that locked-in nature, he asserts, we have to quit things cold turkey and without commentary. Only when we do that, Lanier asserts, will the companies in control question their practices enough to actually make their platforms better and more effective.
I recommend the book to you, as I haven’t done it justice here. And thanks for visiting and reading my site. Every day is the chance to start or continue a good conversation.