#deletefacebook and a post-social media world

March 23rd, 2018

In the wake of a lot of controversy regarding corruption within social media data acquisition and the #deletefacebook trend sweeping the world, it’s a good time to revisit the question of social media’s influence on our lives. To say that social media has an influence on our world, society and our lives may, of course, be an understatement, for in many cases its role is almost directorial. According to Business Insider, the average person spends nearly an hour a day engaged in Facebook specific apps. An hour. Every single day. Combined, nearly an entire day of the week for individuals is spent engaged in the world of “social media.”

This leaves us with a number of questions worthy of serious reflection:

  • How might the world look different if Mark Zuckerberg had never created Facebook?
  • Would we be better off as a society if it had been a flop rather than a success? 
  • Are the pros of the “social” aspect truly worth the levels of social and interpersonal dysfunction it creates? 
  • Can we psychologically and emotionally handle the “pop up” notification experience of immediate accessibility? 
  • Why does social media usage contribute significantly to depression? 
  • What is the influence of social media on our families? What about our health? 
  • Has it truly contributed to national dialogue? 
  • Can we even truly call it social?

The questions are endless, of course, but I think they boil down to a simple assessment of whether we are better off with the existence of social media or not. Facebook and other social media outlets want you to answer that question in the affirmative: it brings connections, fosters relationships, allows for the free expression of ideas and conversation and ensures that your grandmother can look at pictures of your newborn anytime she wants! Social media is a social good, they say, and I suspect that most of us agreed with that sentiment in its earliest days. It was fun, casual and even leisurely.

Now, most of us wonder at the leisureliness of social media, much less the question of its advantages to us as individuals and societies. Of course, all of us would admit that Farmville is an explicit evil that no one in their right mind should ever go close to, but aside from that, most of society likely has a love/hate relationship with social media. We recognize the dysfunctions but, for some reason, legitimate or illegitimate, find a benefit in it as a medium to others.

There is a third camp, however, and that is those who — like early Facebook investor Sean Parker — are “conscientious objectors.” This group of people are those who stand in opposition to the ways in which social media promotes vulnerability in people, exploits human psychology, promotes dysfunction, creates addiction, etc. Like the Tower of Babel, its importance is illusory. It promotes comparison and shame while promising the exact opposites. As former Facebook VP Chamath Palihapitiya noted recently, “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth...It is eroding the core foundations of how people behave by and between each other.” Indeed, the recent slew of allegations against the company’s data acquisition is leading many to wonder to what or who is the one being programmed (as a side note, if you haven’t watched The Matrix lately, now would be a good time!). Is it any wonder the psychological effect of pop up notifications look a lot like the famous conditioning experiment of Pavlov’s dogs?

On the day of my 12th “anniversary” on Facebook, I shut down my personal account. I had an image in my head of the network sending me a “Happy 25th Anniversary” notification and getting sorely depressed at the thought that something so silly and artificial would have me thinking that it belonged anywhere even near the periphery of my life. I haven’t seen a post from a “friend” of mine for three months. I’ve not engaged in any arguments, caught wind targeted news or gotten a Farmville invitation (thank God!). I was never an “addict” in the sense of spending hours a day on the platform, but even the reality of not having it as an access point in my life has been a measure of peace that I had forgotten.

I believe that it's truly time that as a society we wonder whether we really want to have that “Silver Anniversary” with social media. Human beings are, by nature, subject to exploitation, and the evidence clearly points to social media’s tendency to do that in people. If over 14 years social media has had such the influence on our lives as it has, one has to wonder what the next 14 years of being plugged in will hold. Is that something we want?

My small coffee roasting business still has two social media business accounts, but I'm incredibly hopeful that the resistance of society against social media that seems to be developing might overturn the “need” for businesses and professionals to utilize such platforms. Remember, social media needs us far more than we think we need it. If we decide that the benefit is not worth the cost — personally or socially — change will begin to occur naturally. If the narrative changes, if resistance is actually embraced as a movement, the tides will change. Perhaps it's time to start imagining a post-social media world. What will we be going toward? What will we be returning to? What lessons will we have learned about our world and about ourselves in the process? Is it not time for the Babel to fall?

Randy Hardman is the founder of Drinklings Coffee and Mugs, a small organization dedicated to talking about and financially supporting various social issue movements. Drinklings operates a program called Ekklesia Cafe, which is designed to bring quality coffee with a missional emphasis to churches around the nation.

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