In this wonderful scene from the movie Tombstone, Doc Holliday, played by Val Kilmer, learns that his tuberculosis is getting worse, and he decides to send his girlfriend away. But first, she denies that there’s a problem and feeds one of his self-destructive addictive habits. “It appears we must redefine the nature of our association,” he says.
These days, I’m increasingly feeling that way about Facebook. I think I signed up in about 2007, so I’ve been on it for about a dozen years. In that time, it has evolved its business model, and as it has become more profitable, the addictive aspects of its service have become increasingly destructive. I’ve been thinking about that lately, and recently a book by Internet philosopher and network developer Jaron Lanier, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now came to my attention.
I was intrigued by the title, and since I was already thinking about this topic, read it with great interest. Lanier’s critique of social media is not a rejection of the Internet, but of the business model that creates the perverse incentives that drive the amoral and destructive algorithms whose purpose is to keep us “engaged” on Facebook and Google and other “free” social media. If you’re interested in a shorter version of some of his main points, here’s a link to a 15-minute TED Talk Lanier recently gave
He says the Internet took a wrong turn in the early days, when many developers latched onto the idea that services and information on the Internet should be free, but at the same time, believed that it should be developed by profit-seeking businesspeople. Well, business requires revenue and revenue requires paying customers. If the users would not be paying, then money would need to be injected from somewhere, and that somewhere would be advertisers. And thus, BUMMER (Behaviors of Users Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent) was born. When you use the “free” services of Facebook, Google, and all the rest, you are not the customer—you are the product that is being packaged and sold to the real customers (businesses, politicians, angry people with an ax to grind, Russian trolls, etc.), who pay to use the platform to manipulate you and me. Meanwhile, the fact that all our friends are on Facebook means that it’s hard to cut the cord.
What to do? Try something and see how it works…
So, if you’re like me and you value the way that social media makes it easier to keep in touch with friends, this sets up a dilemma: While we await a solution to BUMMER, how to replace the benefits of Facebook with a DIY solution. At the moment, I’ve decided to experiment with limiting my use of Facebook. I like to wish people happy birthday, and maybe I can use the feed to encourage you to come over here so we can talk without a third-party using our conversation as a way to target us for their purposes. So I’m not going to deactivate my account, at least not yet. But I don’t have the app on my phone, and I’m planning to keep my posts to a minimum.
I don’t know. It may be that it’s all or nothing. Typically, addicts have a hard time moderating their addictions. If that’s the way it is with Facebook, then I might have to go completely off. But for now, let’s see how it goes.
And in the meantime, come on over to this website–I’d love to hear from you!