Jimmy on Learning
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Jimmy on Learning

Idea of the Day #15

Social Media Is Not a Tool

Image by free stock photos from www.picjumbo.com from Pixabay

Tristan Harris, formerly of Google, recently spoke on the Dax Shepard podcast (a favorite of mine). In this podcast, he reiterated a point he made in the Social Dilemma which blew my mind.

Social media is not a tool.

As a writer and former founder, I was taught to think of it as a tool. And it can be one.

But, as Tristan points out, social media is a very different tool than a hammer. A hammer doesn’t push you to do more hammering. A bike doesn’t send push notifications to make you ride it. Your jacket doesn’t generate more income for Patagonia the more you wear it.

Twitter, though, has agency of its own. It’s algorithm intelligently serves you content that riles you up, sends push notifications to pull you back in when you walk away, and makes you feel like a super hero with shiny likes.

While Twitter can be used as a tool, it also uses you as a tool of it’s own. Your data is ferried off behind the scenes and sold. Your attention is pulled hither and thither to maximize ad revenue.

Unfortunately, we rarely perceive the dual nature of these platforms. For many of us, myself included, we see the benefits of a “platform”, of a shot at instant fame and virality.

We find it troubling and difficult to calculate the cost of our “free” platform. If you host your own website, on say Wordpress, you know a fraction of the cost. We have come to imagine this world of the cloud and internet as “free”, yet we forget the phrase that slips from Tristan Harris’ lips:

“When a product is free, you are the product.”



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