So if you have been wondering why I haven’t been posting a lot on my various channels since the beginning of the year I would like to give you a bit of a life update here. The simple and short answer is: for quite a while earlier this year I was busy writing my thesis and I am now officially a computer scientist (yay!). However, my absence is linked to a decision/observation/notion of far greater magnitude. Please grab a snack and sit back – I want to go a little more in-depth on this subject. Long story short: I am seriously sick and tired of social media. And here’s why:
Why Facebook is essentially a Dementia ward
A while ago a friend of mine analyzed data from a Dementia ward for her Master’s thesis in gerontology. She told me that one of the biggest challenges for these clinics is that Dementia patients tend to leave the premises and get lost, never finding their way back. So naturally the clinic aims to keep the patients on the premises while at the same time the patients shouldn’t feel locked-in as this might cause panic or anger. Many Dementia wards are, therefore, built in a way that makes the inhabitants feel as if they can roam freely, as if they have a choice where they’re going. The patients can go for walks as long as they want, they can choose to go this way or that way and they will not once encounter a locked door. However, the paths and corridors are built in loops so that, in fact, the patients keep running in circles on the same premises day in and day out while still thinking they are free to go wherever they want. They’re given the illusion of free choice in order to keep them from running away. The difference between a Dementia ward and Facebook is, that Facebook users usually don’t have to be protected from themselves and are perfectly capable of making their own decisions. Facebook decides to go with the Dementia strategy anyway.
Facebook doesn’t want us to leave. They want to keep us on the premises for as long as possible. If we get out, we might discover other websites, platforms or offline life, find them more appealing and never find our way back. This has to be avoided at all costs so Facebook sends us into a network of looping corridors and hallways giving us the illusion of free choice. Facebook chooses what we are allowed to see in our feed. A mysterious algorithm makes the decision for us, claiming that this is “what we’re interested in” based on what we recently clicked on. However, we clicked on it because it’s what was shown to us. Even if we would’ve rather clicked on something else we were simply not given the option. This keeps us trapped in a loop of seeing the same sh*t in our feed day in and day out because we’re not even given the opportunity to discover something new. All the while we’re given the illusion to see exactly what we want to see and to make our own choices. Wanna set the feed to “Chronological”? Of course, here you go. Except we’re gonna change it right back for you because clearly you are a Dementia patient and shouldn’t be making decisions. Leave the decisions to the Facebook ward instead. Realizing that this is happening made me so furious and I grew so sick and tired of it that I pretty much stopped using Facebook altogether. But it does not stop there.
How Instagram sucked the life out of me
Those of you who are following my Instagram probably know that I have been posting daily for quite a while. And my follower count has been increasing for quite a while. That was due to the fact that I put A TON of time and energy into this account. Given that I am a full-time student and have a part-time real-life job (which already adds up to a 60 hour week) spending hours on end on social media accounts that are far from substantially contributing to my income started becoming increasingly un-fun. Instead of relaxing with a good book and a scented candle before going to sleep I found myself on Instagram every single night in bed. Now at this point one could argue that obviously one cannot expect to see results without hard work and that giving up and complaining will not get you anywhere. 100% agreed for pretty much every other area of life. Except for social media. By now we all know that Instagram belongs to Facebook and that the platform has been facebookified so that it is now also governed by the mysterious algorithm. And with Instagram it’s actually even worse. Once again: Just like Facebook Instagram tries to keep your attention as long as possible. Instagram tries to keep you scrolling, it tries to make you open the app as often as possible, it tries to make you interact on the platform as much as possible. Have you noticed how many times the app will send you bullshit push notifications although there isn’t actually anything new? It just wants you to open the app. And that’s where the trouble starts: Instagram doesn’t reward your effort, it punishes your effort. Why? Because if you put so much effort into taking this photo but still see your likes and followers decrease you will interact the sh*t out of this app to get your numbers back up. You will like and comment and follow hoping against hope that it will get other users to interact with your content as well. But you’re fighting windmills. Instagram will keep decreasing your numbers so you have to put more and more and more effort into just keeping your likes and followers up. Instagram has full control over how many people are going to see your posts. Your effort will never result in the outcome you actually deserve which is insanely frustrating. Don’t believe me? Let me show you something. I hadn’t been posting on Instagram for quite a while when I uploaded these pictures.
Both of them received more than 1000 likes which is quite unusual for my account. Very similar pictures from the same photoshoot that I had posted before got around 300-400.
Instagram literally tried to lure me back by flattering me with this high number of likes. Now when I posted the third day in a row again, the number of likes dropped drastically compared to the days before to a comparatively low 300-something. The images weren’t that different – they were all outfit pictures of myself shot in a nature setting. A year ago my initial reaction would have been: “Wow, what did I do wrong? Why did this one not get 1000 likes?” My reaction now was: “Nice try, Instagram. How stupid do you think I am?”.
This was Instagram’s try to make me want to “do something” about this low number of likes. Instagram can and will get you as many or as few likes as the algorithm sees fit in order to trigger a reaction in you. You might have heard of the concept of intermittent reinforcement: rewarding someone SOMETIMES and punishing them SOMETIMES but not always and seemingly randomly will keep people hooked, desperately trying to “crack the code” and win the algorithm’s “favor”. Except you can’t win – Instagram always wins in the end and you have wasted a ton of your precious time that you could have spent with loved ones making beautiful memories.
Why social media is an ill-fated love triangle
One of the problems of social media is that there are basically three parties involved: the platform owners who, of course, want to earn money, the content creators and influencers who, of course, want to earn money, and the regular users / followers who don’t want to spend money and also don’t really want to see ads but want to see their favorite influencers’ content. And these conflicting interests make the life of influencers increasingly hard: while in a “regular” job you usually have a boss/company who needs your work and pays you money while you provide this work and receive money, influencers are torn between their followers, the companies they work with and the arbitrariness of the platform that basically decides whether you still have an income tomorrow. Instagram simply doesn’t care whether this account is someone’s income or existence. Instagram will introduce and change and tweak their algorithms to maximize THEIR profit, not yours. So, what now?
As you may have gathered from this post I’ve grown pretty tired of what the large social media platforms have become. Then again, I get so many lovely messages from followers saying how much they miss my posts and, if truth be told, I actually never had the intention to stop posting. I just refuse to bow to Instagram’s and Facebook’s rules. Maybe the day will come when we can buy eternal life with money but until then I will assume I only have one life and like hell will I spend my precious life mindlessly scrolling through what some algorithm has deemed relevant to me. I no longer aspire to be a full-time influencer. I’m a computer scientist – I want to write algorithms instead of following them and I will still be writing algorithms when Facebook is long gone. But I still want to be a blogger – ever since I was 10 years old I loved having my own space on the web that allowed me to create and share something that is uniquely me. I will simply not care about my follower count anymore – whoever wishes to look at my photos and read my words is welcome to do so – honest appreciation of my work has become so much more valuable to me than numbers that pretend to reflect how successful I am.
My own following behavior has changed as well: of course I’m following a lot of other inspiring content creators, bloggers and artists myself. I don’t rely on the platforms anymore to show me their content: I actively go to their profile pages and websites. I really take the time to appreciate their work and read their words instead of just scrolling by with a quick double-tab. I want to make it a point to give the content creators that inspire me the attention they deserve for all the hard work they put in every day. I believe that one strategy to combat the flood of meaningless content served to us by social media is to mindfully take in less content, but content that we are really truly interested in. Content that we selected ourselves, not some algorithm.
What’s your opinion? Can you relate? How do you use social media in 2018? Let me know in the comments!