...or Facebook. But I'm concerned.
After I posted Twitterless, Part II the other night, my wife — who, it turns out, was reading the article on her phone on the couch – suddenly asked: “Why do you hate Twitter?”
I was taken aback for a second. That wasn’t really the point of the post, but I understand why she’d think that. (After all, I did make a Twitterless shirt.) I’m just trying to limit my reliance on Twitter.
“I don’t hate Twitter,” I said, “but I’m starting to think I’d be better off without it. Facebook, too, actually.”
I’m a believer in social media. I joined Twitter in December 2007 and I joined Facebook in April of 2008. (Corresponding with my purchase of the original iPhone in September of 2007.) I’m a fan of Instagram. And I’ve started profiles on lots of other services, too. Some are active. Many are not. Maybe it’s because I work in design and communications and trying out these services is part of my job. Maybe it’s because I’m a geek at heart and I want to try the newest thing. I don’t know. But I’ve been a long time believer in the power of social media, and I still am.
But I’m concerned.
When I first started to use social media, I was able to connect with others and find different viewpoints. Social media – especially Twitter – was a shortcut to finding great content on the web. Links to blogs and commentary about technology and life and parenting. As someone who loves to learn about new things and discuss ideas, it was a marvelous thing.
That world of thoughtful commentary and intelligent discourse still exists in social media, but it’s much harder to see now. You can blame the election for the shift in tone, but it started long before that. The shift came when our free social media services needed to monetize. They needed to find a way to fund their growth and please their investors. And advertising was that solution.
There’s good content in my social media feed, but algorithms and advertising have made it hard to find. But it’s more than that. The services — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram — are engineered to prioritize creating and sharing easy to consume, easy to “like,” easy to scroll past content. They want to feed us news that we want to see. Stories that we “like” without reading. Because they make money when we keep seeing their ads. Their incentive is to pull us into their apps and keep us there. So they build an algorithm where the priority is not the user. Their priority is their bottom line.
I don’t necessarily blame them. It’s a business decision. I get it.
Twitter has a problem with abuse, but they can’t act on it aggressively because they need the users. Facebook* has a problem with fake news, but they also need people to keep scrolling mindlessly. Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn… they’ve all made the same deal with the devil.
The result is a social media world that prioritizes the equivalent of “junk food” content. Fast. Easy to consume. Not necessarily nourishing or fulfilling, but addictive. They’ve trained us to click “Like” and keep scrolling.
Turns out, I miss the more challenging content. I miss the intelligent discourse. I’m ready for the web to get smarter again. I’ve started to make some changes and reconnect with the part of the web that I love. Part of that is changing how I use Twitter and Facebook… and I’ve already started making changes there. But part of it is looking for new ways to find great content and trying out services like Micro.Blog.
Thinking about social media and how I incorporate services and technology in my life is a major focus for me in 2018 and I'll be posting about it frequently. Stay tuned.
* Facebook recently announced that they are changing their algorithm to prioritizes news from friends and family. Maybe that will make an impact. Maybe not. It will be interesting to see if anything significant changes at all as long as their advertising model is in place.
Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. He's currently in the middle of a project to design a new shirt a week for an entire year. Follow Bob on Twitter, Instagram and Micro.Blog.