2018-12-17

This Reminds Me Of The Time I Sold My TV


I've long believed that "government is a lagging indicator of social trends." By this I mean to say that, by the time an issue is being debated by the government, it's already stale. I cannot prove this, of course, but I often spy such issues in the news. Perhaps it's merely confirmation bias, but still…

One such issue is the matter of Facebook and social media. For several months now, we've been inundated with news stories about Congressional hearings and legislative debates involving what should be done about the power of Facebook, Google, social media, and the likes. Part of this is dressed up in the familiar conspiratorial language of "national security." After all, the argument goes, Russian meddlers used Facebook to tip the 2016 US presidential election toward chaos. Another part of it is dressed up in the familiar conspiratorial language of "media bias." After all, the argument goes, Google manipulates search engine results to promote certain advertisers above others; who's to say that they're not doing this when it comes to political issues?

There may or may not be a kernel of truth to these arguments; I can't say for sure. The amount of money that the Russian meddlers are said to have spent to "tip the election" is a drop in the bucket compared to legitimate domestic campaign spending. One would have to believe that Russian meddlers spend Facebook dollars more shrewdly than the shrewdest campaign managers in the largest political high-stakes game in the world. That strains credulity, but at the same time I don't really know the truth; I'm just musing about it. As for biases in Google searches, it is likely impossible to disambiguate between what adjustments Google makes internally to its own algorithms and what adjustments are made in response to legitimate SEO and search placement spending.

What I can say for certain is that, although these topics are relatively new to the cable news cycles, they are old, boring controversies among people connected to those issues. For example, everyone already knew way back in 2015 that the Facebook news feed was getting progressively more insular and incendiary. I myself have been using non-Google search engines for nearly ten years already. (I first migrated to Bing, and then when Bing started screwing with search results as much as Google does, I migrated to even more obscure choices.) All that is to say that these are stale matters for people like me. We've already moved on; no legislation required. There are plenty of alternatives to Google for search engine services and free cloud storage, so why bother with a Congressional investigation? The rational thing to do would be to make a simple, personal change in your own life and leave the rest of it behind you.

As for social media, it's death has been a long time coming. I think "the kids" moved on to more secure alternatives like SnapChat years ago. At this point, the only social media presence you'll observe from young people is professional profiles: LinkedIn profiles that look like resumes, Instagram feeds that showcase a youth's "side-hustle" business of some kind, few and sporadic photos, and only the best-of-the-best. To catch a glimpse of a young person's social media in the year 2018 is to see a handful of photos carefully curated to make him or her appear simultaneously glamorous and inoffensive.

And older people are finally starting to catch up. Already, most people have grown weary of posting long diatribes or sharing important news stories. Instead, they share interesting news stories, such as science and medical articles, and if they post about politics at all, they post memes. As to sharing photos, those photos that are shared tend to be those same glamorous and inoffensive photos the youth share, or else they are mainly boring: people blowing out birthday candles, couples posing in front of holiday decorations, smiling children playing with ordinary toys, occasionally a plateful of food. (Even the food photos have a bad reputation these days, though.)

Social media will continue for a long time, of course, but its presence as a cultural force has mostly been obliterated. No one is interested in that crap anymore. I can only hope that people find their way back to public spaces and telephone calls, parties and gatherings, sporting events and music concerts. The more we interact with each other live-and-in-the-flesh, the better off we are.

This was all a long-winded sort of way to tell you that I've read 1,200 pages - in real books - in just two weeks' time. How did I do it? I replaced all my social media time with books. I'm always reading, be it a social media feed or a book; it may as well be a book.