I’ve been thinking a lot about social media lately. More than lately; really the past year. I think a lot of it stems from me being on the internet/world wide web since the early/mid 1990s. That’s a long time, and the world wide web was in its infancy. It was a wide open space, the wild west, and anything could happen. It truly felt like a completely equal opportunity place, and you could talk to anybody and – very oddly for that time – build relationships without ever seeing or actually talking to a person. I still remember some of those first friendships I had, from people all over the world with very, very different lives than me.
The show, Halt and Catch Fire, did an amazing job of capturing the feeling of those early days, especially season 4 with the birth of the world wide web.
Social media is not new – GeoCities was an early form (I had a website on Area51 because I’m a dork, thankyouverymuch). Usenet and IRC and LiveJournal and all of that could be categorized as social media. So when I say “social media” I mean something very specific, and what we think of now as social media. Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Tumbler, Twitter, SnapChat… that’s what I’m talking about now. Web 2.0 and all that. There’s a frenetic pace to all of those, there’s a constant refresh for new content, and please like, repost, and follow. They all tout themselves as a form of expression, but it’s actually a way to show off, and to get that adrenaline hit from how many likes you get.
The funny thing about Web 2.0, and I truly believe there were good intentions at first, was to make the web more social, to bring us together. What happened instead is that was warped – warped not only by the companies who saw an opportunity to highly monetize their platforms, but also by us. Our brains are hardwired to respond to certain stimuli, and getting gratification from other people liking our stuff is one of those. Problem is, a picture of your perfectly curated cheese board (I think that’s an actual thing) getting 15680 likes, is vastly different than bringing home a new food source for the tribe. But our brains can’t see the difference yet.
So what social media warped into (by us) is a way to be super narcissistic, to constantly be looking for that gratification that a bunch of people (most of which we don’t even know) liking a photo of how cool our living room looks with that new vintage chair. Or whatever.
I’ve seen people I actually met on the early days of the web fall into this trap. People I have had real, deep relationships with. People who have turned instead to become somebody who just wants/needs that gratification. Some of these relationships have turned incredibly one-sided. Which, honestly, is sad.
The past several months I started slinking away from (current) social media. I’m still a member of one Slack channel, and one forum. The forum I drift in and out of, but the Slack channel is a closed community where there really is expression, friendships, sharing, and learning; it’s my port in the storm that has become the web. I gave a bit of a kiss-off to my Instagram, I deleted Twitter years ago (because I’m convinced it’s a vile cesspool of hate now). Facebook I’ve never really been on, and anything newer than that, frankly, I’m getting too old.
There’s a lot of talk, and a few good documentaries, about how the current state of social media can be detrimental in various ways. Saying people don’t know is disingenuous, I honestly believe that we as a society have become so hooked on that adrenaline hit that I don’t think most people care. To most people that trade off of privacy, personal information, and becoming somebody to market to is a fair trade for when you get a bunch of likes.
It’s one of the reasons I started this blog, and another one. I’ve been a blogger since I had to hard code each separate entry. Spewing thoughts into the web has been something I’ve done since I was a teenager. But it’s my area, and I control it (sort of, I don’t own the server). There’s no way to turn off likes on Instagram (and nobody reads the words anyway), but I can have absolutely nothing that you can react to here (no comments, no likes), and that’s the way I want it.
I don’t believe we can ever go back. It’ll never be 1995 again, and the web has far outgrown that stage. But it would be nice to take some lessons from that era, even if its just small enclaves of people sick to death of the complete bullshit of what the web is now. It’ll be interesting to see how it evolves in the next 15-25 years.