Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now
Henry Holt and Co.
Jaron Lanier was there for the building of the internet, an early chat-room visitor (and developer), a guy with major tech credentials. He’s become an internet philosopher, a fierce critic of Silicon Valley; he’s like any writer with a troubled history and complicated relationship with their hometown. Silicon Valley is the home of Jaron Lanier The Tech Wizard. He likes to throw stones from inside and all around that particular glasshouse.
Valid stones. And no soft lobbing.
His treatise Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now should be prescribed; required reading – the equivalent of doing a Defensive Driving course ahead of sitting the license test. You read this – then you’re allowed a Facebook account. And though Lanier is hoping for more than that, he’s hoping to create a movement of knowing people that understand why and how to walk away he might be better off just getting this book under the noses of whoever he can. And therein lies a problem.
I found out about this book scrolling Amazon – you’re probably reading my review via a social media account (I’m certainly relying on those to share this and all my other writing).
So the trap is deep. And people that have already deleted – or never had – social media accounts don’t need to read this. Those that have found out about it (I’d argue again, most likely via social media) will find ways to justify clinging on.
Still, Allen Carr didn’t cure every smoker – but he got to plenty (including me, so maybe Lanier will break through with a second volume eh…)
I loved this book. I loved everything in it. I recognised myself on the pages – even when I didn’t want to. Lanier breaks it down very simply too – but you know he has the tech knowledge, the runs on the board and the deep conviction to not just explain but to fully know. He manages to put that across without ever waggling it in your face.
He talks about the concept of random reinforcement, so many of us will talk of others and how their Facebook addiction or Twitter addiction is in seeking reward, but Janier breaks down that the addiction is actually in the not knowing, the hot-seat of anticipation of wondering when and how and if the reward will come. As he puts it, chillingly, tellingly –
“The algorithm is trying to capture the perfect parameters for manipulating a brain, while the brain, in order to seek out deeper meaning, is changing in response to the algorithm’s experiments … Because the stimuli from the algorithm doesn’t mean anything, because they genuinely are random, the brain isn’t responding to anything real, but to a fiction. That process – of becoming hooked on an elusive mirage – is addiction.”
Lanier’s slim volume can be read in a single sitting, it is, as its title tells us, a set of arguments – some better than others but all explained clearly, succinctly.
Most compelling for me was Lanier’s argument that he would be on board with social media accounts when he had to pay for them. That free is the problem. That if he pays he can argue for some control, some actual curation – he can remove the hate-speech from his feed, the sponsored content. But working out pay has always been the internet’s big problem and the proof that its users were never its main concern. Lanier’s belief is the internet was created with no way to make or get payments, no way to find other people you might like, to foster communities. It’s a retro-fit idea that the internet is about community.
He says, “Everyone knew these functions … would be needed. We figured it would be wiser to let entrepreneurs fill in the blanks than to leave that task to government…We foolishly laid the foundations for global monopolies.”
It’s food for thought. And there’s a lot stuffed into this small book – a lot of compelling polemic. Some erudite thinking. Most chilling to me was Lanier’s explanation for how algorithms are ready and waiting to destroy podcasts by bots assembling cut’n’paste montages. You could search Barack Obama Podcast and get a whole lot of context-free soundbites. The very point of the podcast, surely, is to keep long-form viable in at least some sense. A tiny few are making any of the money on podcasts, sure, but there’s a payment, a nourishment of the soul for the makers and listeners. And Lanier believes that’s a concept that is on borrowed time already. Sad.
Lots of sadness in this book. Lots of wisdom too.
Saddest point, I guess, is I read it – and still have YouTube Premium, Google+, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter…and I’ll tell anyone that might even half-care that I could do without at least half of them. But I’ll never cancel them. I’ll find ways to justify it. And to be sure it’s not me that’s addicted. It’s just everyone else, right?
I reckon anyone with a social media account – or ten – should read this book. At least arm yourself with some information, even if you are happy (as so many of us claim to be) fooling yourself afterwards.