Social media, eh? Is anything even real anymore in this fake new world? Let me end all frustration in five minutes’ time, my friend.
It’s All Fake! Staying Sane On Social Media
“I call social networks
‘behavior modification empires’”
– Jaron Lanier
(Quote here and below from: J. Lanier’s brilliant TED talk How We Need To Remake The Internet)
Full disclaimer: I’m not a psychologist. The following are my thoughts as a communications and cognition science student, a digital native, as an Internet citizen, as an ethical blogger and sustainability writer, as someone who worked in tech and software industries and loves the creative, the connecting, and the inclusive, democratic, nearly humanistic potential of the “new media”. I want it effing sane again. Also, I made it as lighthearted and yet as packed with info as I could without digressing into dystopian fantasies.
Can contain traces of walnuts and philosophy.
Social media started out soooo fine: everybody could publicly share whatever they wanted with the world. Artists, photographers, foodies, fashionistas, travellers and makers embraced it and oftentimes built successful (second) careers. Connecting with your “tribe” all across the world became feasible. You made friends with people you’d never met otherwise. So much beauty in that!
But what started out as the sharing of authentic, real life experiences on one hand and of carefully curated, artistic or lifestyle content on the other soon started an unholy alliance.
Filters and advanced photo editing tools made the matters optically better but conceptually — worse. Day in day out we’re looking into edited faces that sometimes have only a light assemblance to humanoids. Looking at you, bunny filters.
It’s easy to brush off the synthetic imagery with our rational mind, one could argue. However, the abundance of perfectly edited lives and faces aka heavy social media use is put in context with the rise of depression and anxiety in both adults and teenagers.
To make matters even worse, the algorithms that make social media work are sneaky little devils. Their primal goal is to keep the user on the platform for as long as they can.
In order to do this, they track user behaviour by measuring user engagement. But because they are algorithms, they don’t understand your true character — did you like an image because you agreed with what it conveyed? Because it’s too funny, even though you can’t get behind the idea shown there? Because you wanted to support the person that shared it?
The algorithm doesn’t know. It assumes.
But the algorithm is also brilliant in following its mission, keeping you on its platform by suggesting you more content it considers similar to the one you liked. This, experts say, is leaving the sector of behaviour tracking and entering the sector of behaviour modification. The algorithm wants you excited.
Thus, the algorithm evaluates your behaviour, puts you in a box and gives you content it thinks you will find exciting in that box. More often than not, it will be content that makes you angry. Anger is known to fuel more discussions than happiness, calm, or serenity.
“Negative stimuli are cheaper,
trust takes longer to build
than to destroy”
– Jaron Lanier
Many of us know that consuming social media content often leaves us angry and unhappy. Whether it’s the world we perceive as decaying (while science says: things are getting better globally) or faces and settings we perceive as fake, this is tiring, isn’t it?
However, what if I told you you can turn this feeling around for good?
This is what keeps my social media experience tolerable on bad days and really fun on good ones. This is something you can do if fake images bother you. Simply stop seeing the images as fake. “Simply?” Yes. Hear me out!
“Staged, not fake.”
Delete the word “fake” from your social media vocabulary. From now on, each perfect derrière on a perfect sandy shore, or a perfect breakfast in a perfect hotel bed, or a pretty fashion blogger sprawled over a designer chaise longe is not a “fake” picture, but a “staged” picture.
It’s art. Lifestyle. An ad. Because authentic, real life, mind you, is what happens IRL only, unmediated. Anything experienced via any kind of medium is a documentary at least, and completely scripted and edited at the other end of the spectrum.
The “filtered”, or worse: “fake” news you are fed are a larger problem. Jaron Lanier suggests you should delete all your social media profiles to save yourself and, ultimately, our society (yup), but we all know, not gonna happen. What can we do instead?
Conscious consumption comes to mind. Don’t accept your feed as your only reality. Read blogs directly, not through readers, not on Facebook (this makes the page visit numbers count more accurate for your favourite writer — reading their work through social media or reader apps does not). Read online magazines directly, not from the smart search snippet on Google. Seek out news outlets directly. Watch the whole story, not just an Instagram teaser. Own your online behaviour. Make your own decisions. Surprise yourself — surprise the algorithms.
In the end, we all look for personal freedom, don’t we?
Here’s your ultimate recipe for personal freedom in our social media heavy times: don’t allow the algorithms to dictate you what you want or who you are, and social media could become fun — and sane — again.
I. Montag for BEAUTYCALYPSE.com