Friends, Romans, Influencers...why I'm done with you

What modern social media looks like to me.

I am SO TIRED of social media.

That's possibly not a surprise to anyone who knows me, as in actually knows me as opposed to being my 'friend' so they can attempt to sell me stuff. I'm not good at peopling in the real world; it would be inconsistent at best if I were a virtual socialite.

I'm kind of an early adopter when it comes to technology. I was at uni in the early days of Web 1.0, and the possibilities it presented were endless and exciting. So much knowledge at our fingertips...just as soon as we found a way to catalogue, share and search for it (the latter enabling me to hone my research skills, for which I will be forever grateful).

Even the burgeoning of Web 2.0 - interactive content created by and for the people - I was fully in favour of, and I could just about stomach the early manifestations of social media. I may not have signed up to MySpace of my own volition, but it was fairly benign by modern standards. Similarly, YouTube was a pleasant way to waste a moment or two in between marking essays and supporting students via MSN Messenger.

The best part of all was we could turn it off. Now we wouldn't if we could.

In 2006, I was one of the presenters at the first ever educational conference on podcasting at the University of Cambridge (yep, I'm Wikipedia famous - Twice! ;) Still don't have my own entry though…) and talked about the growing pervasiveness of technology. Already, we had reached the point of being constantly connected, and that was only the beginning.

Mobile phones are the manifest magic of old sci-fi, and there is much that is good about them. For instance, I get lost - a lot. I tell Google to 'take me home' and bazinga! I have an interactive map and directions that will do exactly that. The ability to send a message to let loved ones know you're going to be late/that you're safe, to capture on camera a spontaneous special moment, check bus/train times, write shopping lists, reminders, listen to music... oh, yeah, and make and receive telephone calls. Mobile phones, contrary to my initial opinion, are fantastic. Or they would be if social media would butt out.

Social media notifications (and email) are like lottery scratchcards or one-arm bandit machines. Sometimes we 'win', sometimes we don't, and this variable, unpredictable reward works better than if we 'won' every time. It's what behavioural psychologists call a variable ratio schedule, used in operant conditioning, whereby animals (including humans) learn through associating a behaviour with a rewarding outcome ('positive reinforcement'). In lab experiments, behaviourists found that animals were more likely to repeat a behaviour (pressing a lever) and at a higher/faster rate if the 'reward' (a food pellet) was delivered after they'd pressed the lever a random number of times rather than every time. Likewise with social media, we can't predict when we will receive our 'reward', so we hit that icon over and over and over again.

Partly for that reason, I don't have Facebook on my phone - nor Messenger, since that time it showed me an ad related to a very personal conversation - but I do have some of the other social networks installed, and I'm not so naïve as to believe the rest of what's on my phone isn't spying on me. I know it is, and bizarrely I'm OK with it.

What I'm not OK with is the myriad interruptions social media thrusts into my day to tell me it's whoever's birthday or so-and-so has posted a new video etc. etc. The apps I do have are all switched to 'no notifications', which results in my phone constantly asking if I want to turn on notifications.

Social media creates and feeds our addiction, and we all know why. It's about money - selling us stuff or harvesting our details to sell to other companies so they can sell us stuff - to the extent that the social interaction and entertainment elements are almost by-products.

Every social media platform inevitably flies too high and brings about its own demise, which, on the face of it, is no bad thing. Yet each iteration is more pervasive and addictive than the last, and it is increasingly difficult, even with a goodly amount of willpower and an asocial bent, to disconnect.

The upcoming release of The Matrix: Resurrections has revived conversations about whether machines could ever enslave humans. As far as artificial intelligence goes, it remains to be seen. However, in the hands of the greediest and wealthiest among us, they already do.


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