Deleting Social Media Accounts? That’s What a Top Virtual Reality Innovator Suggests
Jaron Lanier, in his book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (2018) argues there is no moderate use of social media that will lessen its toxic effects. In his manifesto-style, hard-hitting style he argues that the business model of social media married to the techniques of behaviour modification it is based on has turned us into obedient, loyal and predictable “dogs”. He tells us: “this book is about how to be a cat. How can you remain autonomous in a world where you are under constant surveillance and are constantly prodded by algorithms run by some of the riches corporations in history which have no way of making money except by being paid to manipulate your behaviour” (2). As cats, we would decide whether to engage, how to engage and under what terms to engage with the online world.
Lanier’s first argument is the fact we are losing our free will given social media was created with addictive technologies right from its inception. He quotes Chamath Palihapitiya, former VP of user growth at Facebook to say: “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’re created are destroying how society works . . . No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth” (9). A recent Pew Survey from July 2019 showed how close to 50% of youth are online virtually all day long. We know that children use phones and other internet devices around 6 1/2 hours a day against recommendations from the American Academy of Paediatrics’ suggestion of zero time online for the under twos and an hour for kids up to about 5. Although many in Silicon Valley are attempting to correct the challenges created through this type of tech overuse, Lanier argues it is a problem that can’t be fixed by the social media platforms alone—we must regain control of our own and our childrens’ screen time.
Lanier outlines how addiction to electronics is similar to alcohol, drugs, gambling and other dependencies and entail both rewards and punishments. The punishments of online use consist of “catfishing, senseless rejection, being belittled or ignored, outright sadism or all of the above” (12). The double-edged sword of this type of behaviour modification make it extremely effective.
Lanier’s other arguments include how the very worst part of our personality is elicited by social media as negative emotions in a post like hate, aggression, bullying, and insults generate more likes and the anonymity of comments allows for the unleashing of negative emotions and thoughts. He also shows how social media undermines truth, makes information and knowledge interchangeable, destroys empathy, creates unhappiness and creates political polarization.
The only way to move forward with these platforms, Lanier concludes, is to remove the business incentives that foster passive, exploited users and charge for use like HBO and Netflicks have done. The internet itself is not the problem, he states, so we can email friends, look up knowledge, read news directly as subscribers, watch youtube without a Google account. This would bypass some of the surveillance which is another huge concern with the status quo.
Lanier writes a readable, witty, fact-based liberation manual that we would do well to heed.