What’s on the Line
April 20, 2019
On Social Media & Living a Normal Life: Part 2—
Why do I have to be so angsty and fraught with the ins and outs of social media? Ugh. I dunno. Can it really be as bad as it feels to me? I have really good friends who work at Facebook, Google, YouTube, all of the related tech companies. It’s partly just because of living here in the Bay Area, and partly because of the expansive connections I have in my Bay Area church, and I know these friends well enough to trust who they are and what they’re about. And it’s on social media where I connect best with the many people I met online in the first place, artists and art people throughout the country and world. It’s the people I know, these incredible people, that’s what makes social media so amazing. That’s what I love about it. But the algorithm-based platforms? The corporate agendas or international hackers? The attention economy? No thanks. It’s my avoidance of those things that keeps me from social media, but when I stay logged off, I don’t get to “see” old friends much. I miss them.
I never bought into Mark Zuckerberg’s original mission for Facebook: “To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” My immediate reaction to hearing it was: is he really so naive to think that openness and connection wouldn’t be abused? Has he ever known or talked to a sexual abuse survivor? As for me, from the very beginning, I was trying to have autonomy and control over my social media experience, trying to make easy lists of friends according to how we knew each other. And Facebook replied that “the functionality” I was requesting was “not currently available.”
I used to be fine with it, I managed. Other people seem to do social media just fine.
But the fall of 2016 made it unsustainable. The fall of 2017 broke my heart. The summer of 2018 wore down what was left.
What do I want from social media?
1.) I want control over my news/image feed. I want to see things in the order people post them, for it to be natural. I don’t want an algorithm telling me what I like.
2.) I want to know that when I post, it’s either seen or not seen by chance, not based on clicks or the algorithm’s ranking of my value.
3.) I want a social space that isn’t vulnerable to abuse from groups like Russia’s Internet Research Agency. I’m pretty sure people I know got angry about fake things that originated from there, and… I don’t like that.
4.) I want to keep my online friendships and connections and also keep my peace of mind.
5.) Something social media can’t fix, but adding this anyway: I want to stop overthinking this stuff. So far my only solution is to not use it, and so far, it’s working.
What does social media want from me? It wants me to…
1.) Believe it’s a community place and that it works like human communities have worked for centuries when actually it is not built for human relationships but is built to monetize human relationships.
2.) Think it’s a neutral place, an innocuous framework that functions as a community in the same way communities have always gathered; instead, the communities are based on selective text and image sharing rather than natural words exchanged with a range of tones and psycho-social visual cues that convey trustworthiness, sincerity, and presence.
3.) Go against my nature, to outsource trust and openness to its business models, to accept their platforms to speak to friends in truncated ways while they allow my life to be harvested for corporate or political ends, often without me knowing.
4.) Accept that when I put up a post, I don’t have to know how the people will see what I put out there, that such knowledge is proprietary and doesn’t belong to me, and that me wanting to know how it works is an insincere use of the platform.
5.) Think it’s acceptable for human interaction to be mediated by invisible algorithms, that they can create interfaces that have a monetary purpose and it can still simultaneously function as a community.
6.) Forget about what I think and instead let its machinations make me want to know what other people are thinking, doing, buying, wearing, eating.
7.) Believe in its altruistic intentions rather than seeing its lead at the head of the attention economy,
8.) Think of it as a place for my state of mind, plugging into it along with everyone else, so it can figure out what I want, then sell it to me.
9.) Ignore any platform influence in the experience that we are fed, ignore that it’s manipulated by bad actors in corporations and politics and even bad actor nations trying to turn Americans against each other.
10.) Forget that a place is where my body sits at this moment, to forget what I need, to forget what I feel, to forget the sound of silence.
(Note: this was originally an even longer blog post, but I decided to cut it down and re-edit it into parts, so I can get into the practice of writing shorter things. This is still too long, isn’t it? Oh well. There are several more of these coming in the next couple days. My apologies if you already read it in February!)
Series: On Social Media & Living a Normal Life
~ Maritza Ruiz-Kim
Links for this series:
- Book, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport
- Book, Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe by Roger MacNamee
- Video, NYT’s “Opinion Video Series”: Operation Infektion: Russian Disinformation from Cold War to Kanye
- Podcast, Vox’s “The Weeds”: Facebook is Bad, Please Join Our Facebook Group
- Podcast, Vox’s “The Ezra Klein Show”: Cal Newport on Taking Your Life Back from Technology
- Podcast, NYT’s “The Book Review”: Assessing the Facebook Problem
- Podcast, NPR’s “Morning Edition”: Facebook, Google Draw Scrutiny Over Apps that Collected Data From Teens