What’s Cool Can Kill You
Thanks to effective marketing, smoking was once considered a cosmopolitan behavior: glamorous, sophisticated, cool.
Back in October 1955, James Dean epitomized all of these adjectives, piloting his Mercury through LA in Rebel Without a Cause — dragging on a cig like a boss. Unfortunately, it took another decade after the release of this film for the Surgeon General to issue the first warning linking smoking to lung cancer.
That response was obviously considered “too little, too late”.
One that also could negatively impact generations to come…
One that also makes you feel cool…
One that could also be considered harmless…
But this time it’s not big tobacco that’s poisoning our bodies:
Social media companies are destroying our happiness.
Social Makes Us Sad
We’ve all felt the negative effects of social media on our well-being. However, the breadth and depth of the impact is extraordinary:
- A study from The University of Pittsburgh found time spent scrolling through social media apps increased negative body image by 220%–260%
- A HillHoliday survey of more than 1,000 18- to 24-year-olds discovered 41% are made to feel anxious, sad, or depressed by platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.
- 1 in 4 teens has been bullied online more than once…and bullying victims are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider committing suicide.
- According to Pew Research, roughly 40% of Americans have experienced some form of online harassment via social sites or apps
- 20% of people with relationships impacted by behavior online say that impact is negative
- 57% of singles say social media has generated FOMO
- A higher level of Facebook usage is associated with breakups
Fortunately, we already have help from the unlikeliest source — the creator of Instagram himself — to promote awareness of this disturbing trend. Upon his exit from Facebook in 2018, speaking about the evolution of Instagram from a forum for personal expression into a marketplace, Kevin Systrom described the disappointing changes to the platform:
“Instagram has shifted away from providing a channel for pictures and updates from friends to be more of a distribution platform for things like small e-commerce brands and influencers, who may be paid to show off a brand’s products. Generally, I think that’s unhealthy.”
— Kevin Systrom, The Information, September 2018
No wonder Systrom bailed. Instagram seems to be turning into eBay:
- 70% of Instagram hashtags are branded
- Instagram recently rolled out in-app checkout
- Appointment booking inside the app further cemented Instagram’s focus on commerce
- There are 25,000,000 businesses on the platform already
Other Facebook Lieutenants seem to agree: the first President of Facebook, Sean Parker, warned: “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.” Former executive Chamath Palihapitiya* said, “I don’t use this shit.”
The Way We Use Social Media Is Insane…
Sharing is inherently human — we are tribal creatures and storytelling is part of our DNA. Unfortunately, as the former executives themselves admit, existing platforms pervert that instinct by amplifying our audiences and turning memories into media that can be monetized.
In fact, the ecosystem has become so valuable that rather than creating healthier methods to share, many independent developers are busy running growing businesses that widen the reality gap by developing apps that help us meet the impossible standards of… each other.
Apps that encourage the digital manipulation of our faces and bodies — to the point where we all look flawless — are growing at an astonishing rate. People are spending tens of millions of dollars on digital plastic surgery every year… and this behavior seems to be expanding the market for the physical equivalent: in 2018, there were almost 250,000 more plastic surgeries than the year prior.
And it’s not limited just to making yourself thinner in a bathing suit or appear to have a tan when you don’t — a bevy of startups have emerged creating entirely fictional personalities (“virtual influencers”) catering to the trends, interests, and unfulfilled aspirations of a generation. It’s hard enough keeping up with the Kardashians — imagine the gap you’ll feel when you have to keep up with a thousand digital clones, each one targeting a different zip code.
“As the pressure started to build with sort of mimicry of more professional account creators … the Feed evolved from one of all your moments to one of just your highlights.”
- Vishal Shah, Head of Product, Instagram
Of course social media creates pressure: you’re not sharing your life, you’re selecting and broadcasting the best parts of it to a constantly increasing audience. You have volunteered to produce, shoot and edit a 24/7 highlight reel, and made it available to relative strangers (or, actual strangers).
The simple fact is that over the years, we’ve accumulated way too many fake friends and followers. In fact, a study in 2018 reported the average facebook user in the US now has more than 300 “friends”, and the average Instagram follower count at a whopping 843.
Meanwhile, an oft-cited tenant of modern sociology (Dunbar’s number) has determined cognitive limits for the number of “meaningful” relationships any human being can handle. The maximum number is 150 — beyond that many “friends”, we simply lose track of them.
Updated in 2007, Dunbar confirmed his findings, but elaborated in a podium-like definition classifying different intimacy levels, considering 4 separate “layers” of friendships. Turns out we are able to maintain “close” relationships with just 5 people in the first layer, 11 in the second layer, and 30 in the third, only jumping to 150 in the fourth.
The study concludes that the first layers of “vital friendships” are most indicative of happiness.
As Dunbar himself writes of these vital friends…
“A relationship’s quality seems to depend on how much time we devote to it, and since time is limited, we necessarily have to distribute what time we do have for social engagement unevenly. We focus most of it on our inner core.”
What Dunbar doesn’t mention is what makes the relationships we choose to focus on so important… that unique, rare feeling of safety and comfort among friends that we consider “vital.” But there’s a simple name for this behavior that makes us so happy among close friends. One that’s been clinically confirmed to increase thoughts of well-being:
The Power of Bee-ing Yourself
Describing the “profoundly simple” benefits of authenticity in Psychology Today, Dr. Rom Brafman concludes “as a client becomes more and more authentic, they become happier and their psychological well being increases.” This conclusion is supported by data from a study at The University of Manchester:
“Psychologists … empirically examined the effect of authenticity on people’s lives. The more a person acted authentically, the more likely he or she were to be happy and experience subjective and psychological well-being.”
- Dr. Rom Brafman, Psychology Today
Like many of life’s truths, it seems obvious in retrospect. An article from technology columnist Taylor Lorenz in the The Atlantic, “The Instagram Aesthetic Is Over,” confirms that after years of neglect, even the most active social media users are finally discovering the “profoundly simple” benefits of authenticity.
Describing how the look made famous by the platform just doesn’t resonate anymore, the article describes different Instagram stars rejecting the “carefully staged, color-corrected, glossy-looking” aesthetic, and turning to more authentic, more frequent posting as a welcome alternative. Among many others, Instagram influencer Reese Blutstein is featured in the piece as embracing the trend towards more transparent posts, in order to create a more authentic connection with followers:
“For my generation, people are more willing to be who they are and not make up a fake identity … We are trying to show a real person doing cool things as a real person, not trying to create a persona that isn’t actually you.”
- Reese Blutstein, 22 years old, 238k followers
But no matter how many casual posts you share, how authentic can you be if 238,000 people are viewing them? Nothing vital about that.
Real Photos. Real Friends. Zero Effort.
To create an alternative to social media, it’s obvious that we need to start by creating an alternative to our existing audiences… shrink our social networks. It is only with a smaller social footprint that we can begin the work of rebuilding our digital lives.
With experience creating award-winning iOS apps (the last app we created was referred to as “A Better Vine…”), our team set out several years ago to re-focus our social sharing on the friends and family “vital” to us, and return authenticity and intimacy to the way we communicate.
Today, the results of that work have finally taken the form of a product available for you to try:
On 10, you automatically share (almost) everything you capture, with the ten people you care about the most.
In building the app, we’ve removed most everything damaging about the current social experience: there is no support for the import and sharing of doctored photos, no follower counts, no likes, no metrics that will keep you hooked. Just a better way to share with the people you really care about, with authenticity the main feature and benefit.
To share on 10, all you have to do is choose your top ten and take photos with your native camera — the one that’s default on your phone.
The app does the rest:
- 10 analyzes the photos you’re capturing…
- Photos that are OK to share are “approved”
- Approved photos are sorted into a story, and distributed to whoever you’ve selected — automatically
No fancy in-app cameras here. No distractions from what’s actually happening in your life. Just the real you, sharing with real friends, with zero effort.
It’s the opposite of the self-promotion and digital plastic surgery that plagues existing social networks, creating incentives and putting pressure on all of us to look, feel and act perfect.
When you’re sharing with your top 10, you can spend more time enjoying your life, and less curating/improving photos for hundreds or even thousands of people you don’t really care about.
Now, given “automatic photo sharing” is a new and somewhat controversial approach to ensuring authenticity, we’ve put several safeguards in place to protect your privacy.
- Over several years, our engineers trained an AI engine using millions of photos you would never want others to see. This means the app prevents upload of screenshots, intimate photos, documents, IDs and more — in addition to removing duplicates. It’s not perfect technology yet, but the more of us that use it, the more accurate this feature gets :).
- We’ve introduced a 1-hour “safety delay”, so you can always double-check what’s sharing…
- For those of you that want a chance to get used to automatically sharing with your top 10, just switch to “manual mode” — until you’re ready, the app will confirm all sharing suggestions.
But the features of our product are only a small part of the story. When you download 10 and add your closest friends and family, you’re doing more than using a new app.
You’re joining a movement.
Join The Movement
As described in “The Instagram Aesthetic Is Over,” our cultural pendulum swings from one extreme to the other… that’s why it’s so important to embrace and extend responses that seem far from the mainstream. The counterculture is real, and even seemingly tiny movements can lead to extraordinary impact.
Around the turn of the 20th century, when Pablo Picasso first began experimenting with African and ancient-Iberian inspired shapes on his canvasses, he upended an art world that initially responded to Cubism as a revolting hoax. But we’ll never look at a group of five ladies, a woman with a mustard pot, or a mandolin the same. Picasso changed art forever by violating its fundamental rules.
50 years later, during a time when the military-industrial complex was accumulating power at an unprecedented rate, leading to unnecessary global conflict and record corporate earnings, a group of young people took to the streets to unwind the American War Machine. College students forever altered history by refusing to accept the status quo.
As the anthem rock of the late 70s and 80s featured big hair and bikinis, a movement was brewing in the South Bronx where a different kind of artist was creating new music with whatever tools could be found. MCs ripped beats from existing soul, funk and disco records to create a breakthrough genre…a new language that was totally authentic.
Now, we’re not ending a war or introducing a new art form. But the cultural change that we can effect by together moving away from the current model of social media is incredibly significant.
Paintings don’t have to be literal representations of the world.
The people in power don’t necessarily deserve to stay there.
Music can be made with more than instruments alone.
Participating in digital life doesn’t mean you have to be digitally manipulated.
Today, we start a new counterculture: one that will stop broadcasting perfect versions of our lives to people we don’t know.
We’re turning social media on its head, refusing to accept the status quo, and creating a new way to communicate. A different visual language. One that embraces authenticity, celebrates intimacy, and puts an end to destroying each other’s happiness.
Together, we can restore joy to the hour of our day we currently spend anxious, insecure, bullied, scrolling aimlessly towards what we think is a better life.
In the process, we can change what the world shares —
And maybe even how it feels.
For love, not likes.
Join the movement: @GetAttachedLabs
Disclosure: Chamath is one of our investors.