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Twitter is imploding, and Facebook is dying
We just aren’t meant to have that many fake friends
A few interesting articles at “The Atlantic” caught my attention this week.
First is called “The Age of Social Media is Ending”:
Now that we’ve washed up on this unexpected shore, we can look back at the shipwreck that left us here with fresh eyes. Perhaps we can find some relief: Social media was never a natural way to work, play, and socialize, though it did become second nature. The practice evolved via a weird mutation, one so subtle that it was difficult to spot happening in the moment.
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Instead of facilitating the modest use of existing connections—largely for offline life (to organize a birthday party, say)—social software turned those connections into a latent broadcast channel. All at once, billions of people saw themselves as celebrities, pundits, and tastemakers.
There is a difference between “social network” and “social media.” When Facebook became available outside of universities, it was magical. Suddenly, long-lost friends and relatives rediscovered one another and got back in touch.
Social networking using computer information systems per se predates Facebook by at least a decade. Early adopters of computing remember Bulletin Board Systems, IRC, and USENET. None of the early social networks were immune to harmful content, spam, and cyberbullying.
Over the years, the cheaper and more accessible the Internet access has become, the more village idiots became published authors. Suddenly everyone is an expert, a journalist, and a pundit.
This brings me to the second article called “People Aren’t Meant to Talk This Much”:
We can reasonably expect to develop up to 150 productive bonds, but we have our most intimate, and therefore most connected, relationships with only about five to 15 closest friends.
Think about it for a moment: the 15 closest friends can all fit into a single and manageable Messenger chat. Chances are you won’t even have them all in one chat — I have about 3-4 chats going with 4-5 friends in each.
Online life is all about maximizing the quantity of connections without much concern for their quality. On the internet, a meaningful relationship is one that might offer diversion or utility, not one in which you divulge secrets and offer support.
The ease with which connections can be made—along with the way that, on social media, close friends look the same as acquaintances or even strangers—means any post can successfully appeal to people’s worst fears, transforming ordinary folks into radicals. That’s what YouTube did to the Christchurch shooter, what conspiracy theorists preceding QAnon did to the Pizzagaters, what Trumpists did to the Capitol rioters. And, closer to the ground, it’s how random Facebook messages scam your mother, how ill-thought tweets ruin lives, how social media has made life in general brittle and unforgiving.
It’s long past time to question a fundamental premise of online life: What if people shouldn’t be able to say so much, and to so many, so often?
The solution is not that complicated — users should pay for content, and broadcasters should pay to broadcast. No one is entitled to a free (as in price) megaphone and free content subsidized by advertisers. If nothing else, advertiser-subsidized content is not conducive to the free (as in freedom) exchange of ideas.
Good content is worth paying for, and the power to broadcast to a broad audience should cost money. Readers will vote with their wallets for the most trusted content — just like we used to do.