Am I Better for Having Used Big Social Media?
My brother (who is younger than me) has never used big social media.
I make a distinction between big and small social media.
- Big social media = the large popular platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.
- Small social media = however you interact with smaller, private groups of people. Like a small Discord server, iMessage group, etc.
I guess technically my brother does have a LinkedIn account that he uses as an online resumé, not as a social network. But Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? Nope. Nada.
I have to say, I envy him in that regard.
My brother is an average guy. He has a wife and kids, lives in the suburbs, works a white-collar job. He plays video games and watches nerdy TV shows and movies like me. But if you ask him if he saw so-and-so's post on such-and-such big social media app, the answer will always be no. He's never done big social media and likely never will. If you ask him why, the answer is simple: it's never appealed to him. He doesn't see the point. He's happy, is well-informed, and works hard. He's well-liked (not the Facebook or Twitter “like”, the real-life like) amongst his family, friends, and associates. In every way that matters, my brother doesn't seem to be worse off for never having used big social media.
I don't remember when I created my first Facebook account (I'm on my third one after deleting two previous), but in total it's probably been at least 15 years, probably more. I've also had stints on Twitter and Instagram, but no longer use either (I'm on my second Twitter account basically to park on my username, deleted Instagram and never looked back). I also have a LinkedIn account, which I use primarily as an online resume (I like it even less than Facebook as a social network).
When I think on the totality of my big social media experience and ask myself if it has added value to my life and made be better for having used it, I have to say no. In fact, I am probably worse off. I consider the role that social media has played in spreading misinformation, in amplifying harassment and bullying. I consider the companies that have run the most popular platforms and how they use these platforms to exploit and manipulate their users. Whatever good, uplifting, virtuous content may be posted on these networks is more often than not buried – drowned out by louder, in-your-face, more enticing, more profitable content surfaced by an algorithm. My feed is riddled with ads from companies trying to convince me to give them my money in exchange for a trinket or a service I don't need.
I even consider my experience with the decentralized Fediverse social media network and Mastodon. While it's certainly been a notable improvement overall from the popular proprietary networks (no ads, chronological timeline, good people), and moves that needle significantly towards the “yes” side of the dial, when I ask myself the same question – has this added value to my life and made me better for having used it – I still have to honestly answer no. I mean, I have enjoyed most of my interactions there and learned some interesting things, but for the most part, it's been a way to distract myself and waste time. Also a way to seek validation from strangers.
Big social media has always been promoted and praised as a way to connect people. But in reality it has encouraged and facilitated tribalism, contention, and incivility. It has actually exacerbated social isolation rather than alleviated it.
People like my brother are proof that you don't need big social media to be connected, happy, knowledgeable, or productive.
And despite having started a new Mastodon instance recently and doing a “closed beta” inviting a few people to join me, I am having second thoughts about that. It's just perpetuating the big social media shtick, albeit in a more ethical, decentralized fashion. Unless my closed beta goes amazingly well (which it's not so far, only one person besides me has even posted anything), I don't see myself continuing that experiment.
I remember the pre-Facebook days when people had their own blogs. I think that's a better way for anyone to share things publicly on the web. You can write whatever you want, share photos, videos, etc. If people want to see that stuff, they follow your blog. If they don't want to see that stuff, they ignore it. Some blogs even have comment sections for each post where people can interact with you and other readers if they want. I miss that. I've rather enjoyed blogging again after years of using big social media. Whether or not I leave big social media altogether, I'll definitely keep blogging.