(note: this is a continuation of a rant from a couple weeks ago)
I know it's absurd for me to be talking about "social media" as though it's some homogenous monolith. I'm sure aficionados could tell me the subtle differences between platforms the way a sommelier could tell me the difference between a Malbec and a Cabernet. But at the end of the day, those are just two varieties of red wines, and like them, Instagram and Twitter are more similar than they are different. And one of their similarities is they tend to bring out the worst in us.
Before my departure from social media, I saw people on Facebook joining or "liking" pages devoted to searing hatred of immigrants. These same people in some cases had testified at deportation hearings for undocumented family friends. What was it about the choice architecture of that "like" button that made the sort-of-evil decision the easy one?
This isn't that different from the other happiness-draining things our consumerist society throws at us with the promise that we'll be happier if we use them. Tobacco, junk food, and social media all want the same thing from you: they want to take away your control over your life, health, and happiness. But while we've made strides to combat tobacco and junk food, like smoke-free laws and taxes on bug juice, we seem stuck in a self-sustaining vortex that tells us that more connection, more technology, will solve our problems instead of creating new ones. If a drug hit the market and prompted some of the behaviors that we see with social media, would we applaud it?
And the children. The children. We're training our kids to avoid boredom at all costs. How many kids have you seen dialed into a phone at a restaurant? How many staring into a screen at a playground? How many being beseeched to turn down their phones while at a restaurant or basketball game?
These are not behaviors that any of us are proud of. Were you to point them out to the very people exhibiting them, they would be ashamed, right after they got done telling you off and posting on Facebook about what a jerk they just ran into at the restaurant. But pride aside, there is probably real harm being done here. I'm frankly suspicious of any claim that the fake news on social media swayed the last US Presidential election, but it certainly didn't lead to a more erudite, informed electorate, either. But a kid who sits at a restaurant with earbuds in, staring at a screen, is being trained that boredom is unacceptable. What will happen to this person the first time he's confronted with a situation that requires delayed gratification or an attention span?
So even though I'm a bit of an anti-incrementalist, I'm hoping to see just a series of small ticks in mobile/social media use. Comedian Chris Rock is having fans lock up their phones at his shows. Jack White has been doing it for a while now. I don't think these guys are doing it out of general fuddy-duddyness; they're trying to bring out the best in their audiences and to make sure everyone has a shared experience. Schools, historically afraid of parent backlash to less-than-100-percent-available kids, are even in on the act, establishing "phone free zones" with the same technology Chris Rock is using.