Hello, Charlie

Or, "Why I Quit Social Media"

Now the police dreams that one look at the gigantic map on the office wall should suffice at any given moment to establish who is related to whom and in what degree of intimacy; and, theoretically, this dream is not unrealizable although its technical execution is bound to be somewh at difficult. If this map really did exist, not even memory would stand in the way of the totalitarian claim to domination; such a map might make it possible to obliterate people without any traces, as if they had never existed at all. -- Hannah Arendt, "The Origins of Totalitarianism"

I hear that my absence from the pernicious world of social media has triggered some suspicion[0].

After 12 years of social media, I have many reasons for dropping it as a platform. But, ultimately, I’m tired of being its product. Tired of having my identity and behaviour sold to advertisers. Of not having direct control over the content I consume. Of having no privacy. And, especially, of having my behaviour modified by these same "content" providers[1][2][3]. For some of these same reasons, I have also stopped using Google’s services, aside from Waze; and have moved to paid services where I can, for news, communication, and media management.

Funding these "free" services requires advertising revenue. This requires time on screen: the longer you're there, the more adverts they can serve you; the more they know about you, the more they can manipulate your behaviour, to keep you engaged for longer, and send you more adverts. Rinse and repeat. Your wellbeing as a person has literally zero impact on how their Artificial Intelligence (AI) makes decisions about what to serve you. And the AI is good. Current AI can create profiles of us that contain information that we don't explicitly state or share. It can make accurate inferences based on even seemingly benign information, simply by being aware of all of our information at once, in a way that we could never be aware.

Aside from the subjective creepiness of this, there is also a Social Cooling[4] effect that occurs as a result of our knowing that our data is being mined. This ostensibly benign advertising information is also increasingly popular with governments[5], as well as a target for directly nefarious actors.

In an email to mutual friends of ours, last year, I said the following:

Yes. Twitter is incredibly distracting. And as a medium of exchange the short format creates more confusion and brutality of expression, than it does aphorism.

I now think that was unfair to Twitter. I think it is in the nature of social media itself, in the nature of people too; not just Twitter. I find its effect, personally, to be insidious. I become like a rat in a Skinner Box[6], hitting that little dopamine switch. Flicking back to Facebook, or Twitter, or Pinterest, or Tumblr, or Instagram, at every small gap in my day. (I don’t think that this is unique to me either[7].) Consumption without attendant creation, and all the endless little joys, and irritations, that keep me browsing, are a slow poison in a creative life. I decided to slow things down. It’s not the first time I’ve done this (in fact I think you’ve been followed by two iterations of me on Twitter); hopefully it will be the last.


Footnotes

[0] 1 2

[1] Richard Stallman: Reasons Not to Use Facebook

[2] Is Facebook a Structural Threat to Society?

[3] Sam Harris Interviews Tristan Harris

[4] Social Cooling

[5] White Monopoly smear campaign run in South Africa

[6] Skinner Box/Operant Conditioning Chamber

[7] Technology is Heroin