2016-07-29

Social Media: You're Doing It Wrong

There is plenty of information out there for how to use social media to... profit, become popular, make gain, whatever. Most of it smacks of guru-ism, but if you're into that sort of thing, it's out there.

Far less digital space has been dedicated to strategies for optimizing our consumption of social media. Once you get out of the realm of protecting your privacy and stuff, no one's really talking about it. How should one navigate social media such that it actually enhances your life?

What inspired me to start thinking about this is the fact that I have an Instagram account and a Twitter account, and although most of the people I am interested in following are active on both, I made different decisions about who to follow on each medium. Consequently, I have very different experiences while using each medium.

On Twitter, I started out mostly following a few friends, and then a bunch of economists. Serious people. On Instagram, I decided to follow a bunch of Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities. (My reasoning at the time was that Twitter would be a vehicle for the advertisement of my blog, while Instagram would be a vehicle for the advertisement of my music.)

When I started following people on Twitter, I was very picky. I didn't want to be advertised to, I didn't want a bunch of music and entertainment, I wanted to follow people for whom I had genuine respect and admiration. By contrast, when I started following people on Instagram, I had almost no standards whatsoever. As long as the person looked like some sort of celebrity, then it was clicky-clicky. Most of the people I follow on Instagram are people I have never heard of or seen before, except in the context of Instagram. When people ask me who they are, I answer honestly: I have no idea, just some person on Instagram.

Over time, I've discovered that logging into Twitter fills me with a sense of dread, whereas logging onto Instagram almost always makes me happier than I was before I logged on. But how can this be? How could it be that the social medium on which I follow only people I respect could end up making me sad or angry, while the medium on which I follow people for whom I have hardly any respect at all can make me so happy?

The answer is: Content.

My Twitter feed is full of intelligent people analyzing current events, typically from the standpoint that the world is sub-optimal, and they have some ideas for how to make it more optimal. In other words, people on my Twitter feed are angry and complain a lot. When they do make jokes, they make them at other Twitter users' expense. It sucks.

By contrast, my Instagram feed is full of beautiful people taking pictures of themselves doing fun things. They're young, they're fit, they're frequently in exotic locations, they're engaged in sports, or cooking, or wearing nice clothes. They smile, they kiss, they travel, they play.

In hindsight, it should have been obvious all along that Instagram would make me happier than Twitter. It's counter-intuitive to think that meticulously curating a Twitter feed full of good, respectable people would produce an inferior outcome compared to indiscriminately following any celebrity I could find.

But that's how it is.