A Social Media Pledge
“We’re strip-mining humanity for engagement and fracking the decency out of society because we’re working within a system of rewards that doesn’t give a damn about the long-term effects, only short-term gains.” — Mike Monteiro in Ruined by Design on the effects of optimizing social media and other online experiences for “engagement”
One of the big lessons I’ve learned about myself — and all of us — these past few years is how social media is changing not just our attention spans but also the way we interact with one another. I’ve been guilty of being snappish and curt on social media, quick to make judgments. I’ve lost a few friends (or “friends” since I’m not sure Facebook relationships with people you’ve not seen for 20+ years qualify as real friendships — especially when those relationships swing largely between silence and combativeness). I’ve blocked a few people. I’ve handled a few situations with little or no grace.
To be fair to myself, some friendships weren’t worth maintaining and some beliefs deserve to be openly and bluntly criticized. And the algorithms of social media feature a tremendously pernicious dynamic where the people we’d less like to spend time with in real life nonetheless can command our time and attention and inflame our emotions while we actually hear less from those we’d love to spend more time with. The very act of engagement highlights those conversations, which are most volatile on our timelines. Our phones ripple with alerts dragging our attention to review careless and inflammatory comments—ensuring we see them. The most toxic person among hundreds of “friends” can command our attention by attaching a barrage of comments to your post in the 5 minutes it takes to shower and radically change the climate “in the room” — an event that likely would’ve unfolded very differently among friends in real life. (Yes, that happened a few months ago. My reaction wasn’t pretty and I didn’t handle it well.)
So, although I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, I would like to work on modulating my online interactions. Pick my battles better. That doesn’t mean I want to avoid good healthy arguments all together or remain silent when the BS of, say, bigotry or transphobia, deserves to be confronted. And I’ll likely get this wrong. Repeatedly. But I do recognize the wisdom of one of my few remaining heroes, Oliver Sacks, who said, “We must humanize technology before it dehumanizes us.”