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2020-05-31

Anti-Social Media

I have come to dislike social media. 

I deleted my Facebook account more than two years ago. I might have a Twitter account associated with work, but I've been ignoring it for at least as long. I know I don't have an Instagram account. Reddit? Maybe for a hot minute, but found it too much work to find things of interest. Snapchat? Nope. Pinterest? No interest. 

I do have a LinkedIn profile, but that's just for professional purposes. I have a YouTube account, but these days only to find my favorites. 

Am I consistent in my position vis-a-vis social media? Not really. But I do have a position. It has to do with attention span. I like the long form. That's why I prefer the essay. I like to read the background story in the news media to understand the headlines. I prefer to get to the why rather than the how, much less the how many. 

Am I a "pseudo intellectual punk"? Yes, wholeheartedly. That was a charge leveled at me by a high school teacher and football coach as he pushed me up against a row of lockers in the school corridor. (He did pronounce pseudo "swaydo".) My crime was wearing a lapel button with a message favorable to contraception. 

I was attending a Roman Catholic military academy run by Benedictines. (I learned early that contradictions abound in life.) While I was a little concerned with getting a beating as he was infamous for bullying students and hitting them (see above, Catholic school), I was more worried about my sister's reaction as he tore the button from my coat. She had loaned it to me for the day. 

My preference for careful thought and argument are partly because of that episode. I was confronted by a person who used his authority with its implied violence as a way to squelch my voice. I still remember but do not feel the fear. Yet the more important result was the label that has stuck in my mind for almost a half century. He could not accept that my views were genuine and thoughtful. Granted, I was 16 at the time. But many teenagers have a finely tuned sense of fairness, if only applied to their situation. Mine, however, was turned outward because of my era–it was 1970 and the student movement was still alive. 

We now live in an era where our inward monologues and grievances are turned outward. Not in a thoughtful form but at its worst devolved into a hashtag. Those work because people can reuse them and some system somewhere keeps count. The problem with this is that we have abandoned the wisdom of the crowd for the mindless fury of the mob. The problem with mobs is that they have no brain, only impulsive emotions. The problem of mobs on social media is that their fury is encouraged to monetize interactions and contribute to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a very few people. 

In the meantime, the rest of us have to endure mindless spasms of spleen venting as some actually believe this social bile and take action. We are now far beyond the crazy, gullible individual who believed in Pizzagate, and have ostensibly sentient beings marching for the right to not wear a mask, gather together in tightly-packed mobs, and endanger themselves and all around them with infection of a deadly virus. Why? So the owners of social media companies will see their stocks rise.

They have become tech titans and their platforms span the globe. We have faced such concentrations before and used law to break them up. But those were trusts for manufacturing, oil production, and steel making. How do we break up companies built on algorithms? Do we have to use the very instruments of the social mob to organize to defeat these algorithmic owners? 

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