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Social Media Self Awareness
Are predictions about social media “normalisation” coming true? Or a slow awareness building…
Many years ago (I don’t remember when), I read about how studies showed that social media usage was replacing other kinds of idle time. People have always wasted as much time as we reasonably could. We aren’t biologically capable of focusing non-stop and we developed cultural habits around that need to disconnect.
Seen one way, we are naturally distracted and that is a problem. Seen another way, it’s a feature of our lives not something we can’t (shouldn’t?) “fix” completely.
I’ve also contemplated this from memory. I remember riding public transit before cellphones and I didn’t strike up energetic conversations with my fellow passengers. I took out a book, a newspaper or stationary and did everything I could to ignore the people around me. I’m not sure human behaviour has changed that much with cellphones. It just looks different. And to a segment of society, it likely looks bad/worse. Because reading a physical book and ignoring everyone around you is so much better than holding a cellphone and ignoring everyone.
My Substack feed is bursting (as in three) with articles which I find indicative of this shift. Rather than an extreme on either end, they are more nuanced, jovial and self reflective.
I also wonder what of the never-ending struggle of novelty plays into our dynamics with social media. What was once novel becomes boring once well established. Once normalised it can pass into the background as we adapt. Even perfectly optimised feeds that show us only want we are ‘most likely’ to enjoy will eventually become stale and boring. Maybe not to the individuals but certainly generationally.
These are my top-picks so far from the media feast of distraction around Threads.has a masterpiece of self-roasting and window-into-a-social-media-mansturbation.
The Ben Thompson (Stratechery) has an amazing overview of the more practical elements of why social media is relevant and captivating to so many people: Threads and the Social/Communications Map – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
The most insightful take away for me was when he quotes some of the higher ups at Facebook saying that they recognise that a very small number of people (creators) make the vast majority of content and most (all) people just come on these platforms to consume content. This is true across so much of human-internet-and-real-life-society but it also feels like a novel realisation long over due. The “marketplace of ideas” has been obsessed with idealistic concepts of societal revolution where everyone is a creator and orchestrates their life. Yet over and over again this idealism runs head first into the reality that most people have lives other than creating content. And for those people who want to build a life creating concern it’s a grind like no other - even if you luck into it by family, relations or congeniality.
Which brings me to the awesome new Korean Netflix drama Celebrity about influencers and celebrity in the modern world. While it is, of course, a drama, I’m impressed at how to puts out raw the internet culture we recruit ourselves into, replicate and boost. It is a harsh social critique simply by holding up a mirror and asking “Do you like what you see? Really?”
I could stop here but I can’t. This area is so interesting as it morphs as I unpack it.has an amazing write up on their own journey with Social Media and how they have changed because of what they have to write and the habits it builds. The pure, pragmatic honest descriptions were what really resonated with me. A perspective of the people who use Social Media for work/jobs/careers and represent that small percentage of people who are creators.
I want to close with one that is a combination of many links and recommendations and also an honest introspection on use of tech in our lives and trade offs we are entitled to make.has an amazing Social Media journey in this article. The sentence that struck me and stuck with me was right at the end “…I took a call that I was never going to stop checking my phone…”. It pulled me back. So much around our phones are these inbuilt judgements - checking phones is bad, etc. Yet we then mindlessly check our phones. It all starts with self awareness.
I’d much prefer a world where I check my phone a lot because I like doing it and am aware of the choice and trade off than a world where I constantly scold myself for checking my phone while secretly enjoying what I’m doing.
We focus so much on our phones and tech in general that we forget that compulsive behaviour is common and obsessions and habits are critical parts of any functioning human being. In some ways reminding me of The Man Who Couldn't Stop: OCD and the True Story of a Life Lost in Thought - David Adam - Google Books
All these articles and introspection isn’t motivating me to get on Threads or any other Social Media for that matter (other than Substack for fun and Yammer/Viva Insights for work).
All this drama does reassure me. It makes me feel that we as a society may be moving away from the blanket judgements towards Tech, Social Media, Games, etc and slowly recognising the nuance available. The continued fragmentation of the space likely helps and further anti-monopoly pressure within tech will hopefully help accelerate that as well.
Facebook was once thought of as the “new digital phone book” yet after so many years, I don’t think we need a digital phone book any more. It’s a whole different world.