How big tech makes free labor hip and very, very profitable.

If you had to pay for social media, how would you justify the expense?

Because of the free nature of these platforms, I suspect that we rarely ask ourselves this question. They’ve achieved such dominance, they’re so firmly embedded in our habits and routines, the question almost sounds like nonsense.

What did I get?

It’s abundantly clear what big tech has gained out of the deal: unthinkable money, power, monopolies.

What did I lose?

Then I wondered what this investment cost me. What did I lose for my sizable investment into these platforms?

What haven’t I done because I chose to invest in social media?

Ten years of that sort of daily effort is enough time to become an accomplished artist, author, musician, entrepreneur, athlete. What haven’t I done because I chose to invest in social media?

Why did I do it?

What if someone came up to you and said: “Login to a site for one hour every single day, read and write text, share photos, and click buttons. You have to do it for ten years. You have to do it for free. The only thing you get out of it is that we will make numbers appear next to the things you create. The better you do, the higher the numbers go. We will watch everything you do, steal everything you create, and sell it to make billions of dollars for ourselves. Sound good?”

there’s this weird thing about modern culture, we all think we should be celebrities

Instead of paying us for our time, they hold out the offer of celebrity, of becoming a “social media superstar”. The term “superstar” is apropos because all of these platforms essentially put you into a competitive game the second you click “register”.

All of these platforms put you into a competitive game the second you click “register”

Blessed are those who tweet, for they shall inherit the blue checkmark
I’m kind of a big deal

Can we fix it?

The social media companies are in the dog house right now and they know it. They’re promising that they can fix “the problem”. They’re introducing features to limit addiction, deploying artificial intelligence to stop political gamesmanship, vowing not to invade our privacy any more than they have to.

Facebook’s product actually isn’t facebook.com. Instagram’s business isn’t the app on your phone. Those are the ways that you work for them.

Social media is big business built on the back of your free time.

Who knew Serfdom would be so much fun?

In medieval times serfs would work the land of their feudal lord. They had no ownership over the land they labored to cultivate. The fruits of their labor belonged to the feudal lord. It’s an amazing system if you happen to be a feudal lord but also somewhat limited by physical realities. No matter how rich you are, there’s a finite amount of land for your serfs to work.

What can we do?

First, we need to recognize this model for what it is: a form of exploitation. It’s sincerely, sincerely bad. As entrepreneurs we need to reject it. We need to seek and discover business models that actually serve our customers. Profit is not a bad thing. Trickery is. Theft is.

We need to recognize this model for what it is: a form of exploitation.

Second, walk away. Think about your investment into these platforms, what they’ve taken from you, what you’ve lost by feeding their empires. Stop playing their game. Accept that you aren’t going to be a celebrity. Go outside. Read a book. Sit in silence. Spend actual time with someone you love. Go have a private adventure instead of a public performance. Be yourself.

Indie Hacker. Formerly Co-Founder @ Droplr & Riskalyze. Sometimes I write and speak about software stuff. You can learn more about me at: https://nunn.ink

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