Social media probably not a deathtrap

by eukaryote 2y7th Oct 20176 comments


I'm underwhelmed and unconvinced by the recent burst of content that has strong flavors of “social media is a deathtrap, millennials are consumed in a never-ending race to signal status, and technology devouring people’s lives is a huge problem.” I think it's getting at something, but to me, none of it adequately addresses:

  • You can get large amounts of value out of the internet, etc, that you literally couldn’t get otherwise.

    • Sure, Facebook is a website that profits off of my use and operates via a slot-machine type content dispenser. It's also how I plan to go to events, talk to my best friends, and stay up to date on developments in my field.

    • More broadly: online friendships, learning everything about anything, finding communities, making art for fun, finding out you're not alone in meaningful ways, changing your life path and worldview, watching Jessica Jones, etc. This includes reflection, relaxation, connection, opportunities for introspection, etc.

    • A lot of social media is mindlessly looking for attention and crafting an image. Sure. I guess this is a little concerning, but a lot of any interaction is this. Did you know people used to wear corsets? Daily? That was probably just rich people, I'm not sure, but... petticoats? Bustles? What do you think makeup or a tie is? At least when I spend five minutes anhedonically refreshing Tumblr to see if anyone liked my meme, I can do it from my home in sweatpants.

  • When people have no enjoyable spare time, or literally cannot take a day off work once a week, I think that mostly, they already have correctly recognized that this a problem, and would vastly prefer that this not be the case.

    • (I wonder if the authors are thinking specifically of Silicon Valley-type people who make vast amounts of money and still work 10-hour days and don't take weekends off. If this is the case, I'm sympathetic but perhaps a specifically directed appeal is in order - I think these are the minority of people who are overworked.)

  • It would certainly be nice if I could walk to my friends' and partners’ houses, but this problem is actually frequently solved by public transit and cars. When it's not, or you know you'd be much happier if you moved but can't, see the previous bullet point.

  • Etc.

I'm sure lots of people could use more slack or leisure in their life, or the ability to step away from technology, and should try these things out and critically examine their relationship with social media and how it makes them feel. I think some of the described dynamics are real.

Nonetheless, I'm unconvinced by the implication that social media and technology don't afford slack or leisure, that a person using a lot of social media "lacks free speech, free association, free taste and free thought", or that I'm in danger or that my life is actively falling apart. Maybe I'm not seeing something, but what I've read on LW feels like slightly-better-thought-out “selfies are the downfall of civilization”-type thinkpieces, and I’m about as motivated to do anything now as I am after reading those.