A cow ambling into a slaughterhouse doesn’t know it’s about to be killed, cut-up, wrapped up, and shipped across the country to end up as dinner. It thinks it’s taking a walk. It doesn’t know that it’s a product.
When you signed up for your FREE social media account, you didn’t know that you would be mentally tied-up, digitally diced-up, and have the resulting fragments of your time and attention sold to the highest advertising bidders. You thought you were keeping in touch with old friends or keeping entertained. You didn’t know that you were the product.
Don’t worry; it’s not just you. I did it, too. Lots of people did. Here’s how many:
Facebook: 2.7 billion users (2.1 billion of whom log in daily)
Instagram: 1 billion+ users (500 million access the app daily)
Twitter: 331 million users (134 million daily users)
Snapchat: 310.7 million users (190 million snap daily)
If everyone is doing it, it can’t be that bad, right?
Let’s ask a different question, one that will be familiar to many of you: “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you do it, too?”
Honestly, is there anyone left who doesn’t know that social media is bad for us? Oh sure, you have the perpetual optimists who point out the benefits. But, the cons outweigh the pros and, deep down, we know it.
When we read an article like this one that tells us that the very people who designed the “best” parts of our social media experiences are opting out of the “services” themselves, why do we not even blink?
When one article links an increase in social media usage to depression and another finds a connection between decreased scrolling and happiness, why do we ignore it?
We ignore the facts for the same reason that a cow keeps munching its corn and getting fat: we like what we’re getting out of the deal.
Cows bodies need food to survive. Human brains need interaction with other humans. But just like the cow eating corn, we’ve unwittingly settled for a cheap substitute provided by social media handlers with ulterior motives.
A cow isn’t designed to munch on corn: it’s made for eating grass. But grass is labor and cost-intensive and takes longer to build up the cow’s body mass. Corn is cheaper, easier, and fattens the bovine body faster, enabling the cow’s owner to convert fewer expense dollars into more profit dollars. And the cows literally eat it up, undoubtedly thinking how great this free lunch is.
The digital handlers over at Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. have done something eerily similar to us. They’ve hijacked our brains’ desires for the rewards of relational connection, something that usually takes lots of time, attention, and, yes, loving labor to produce and given us something instantaneous, fleeting, and cheap that presses the same button.
And we eat it up, not realizing we’re being sold in the bargain.
What Should You Do?
The poor cow doesn’t have a choice as it mindlessly munches its way to destruction. But we do.
More crucially, YOU do.
As a thinking, reasoning, functioning human being, you have a choice to make. Once you realize that social media is turning you into filet mignon for the advertising industry, you can go one of three directions:
1. Change nothing.
2. Limit your engagement.
3. Opt out.
Let’s look a little closer at each option, shall we?
Certainly, this could be your choice. After all, ignoring what’s true to preserve what’s comforting is practically an American sport. No matter how many times studies indicate that being overweight significantly increases one’s medical bills and substantially decreases one’s life expectancy, it’s a safe bet that McDonald’s and Coca-Cola won’t fundamentally disappoint their stockholders anytime soon.
If this is your choice, so be it. But don’t go blindly: understand what is happening and why.
Limit Your Engagement.
“Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
Whether in social media, junk food, alcohol, or garage sales, there’s something to be said for moderation. Things which are bad for us in large quantities are often good for us in small quantities.
As humans, we are hardwired to seek happiness. Social media can make us happy. So, you could very easily try to keep the benefit of social media but mitigate the dangers by limiting your engagement.
For example, you could make a rule that you only check your social media accounts at certain times throughout the day and never exceed X number of minutes on them. (An app like Freedom can make this easier).
Or, you could set a “weekends-only” rule for your social media. Or, you could reverse that.
Regardless, you can limit the amount of time you give to social media, moderating its impact and control. You’ll still be the product, but lose less of yourself to the process.
However, there’s one more option to consider:
Above, I said that moderation is good: it is. However, that is not always the case.
There are some things which can be good in small quantities. For many, there’s no harm in having a beer with dinner. But what if you’re an alcoholic Then, that beer can be disastrous.
The same scenario proves true with social media. If you are addicted to social media, limiting your engagement is not going to help.
And social media is nothing if not addictive. Regardless of the platform, social media is purposed-built to suck you in, keep you scrolling, and sell longer and longer stretches of your attention to advertisers.
Ask yourself these questions:
Have I ever checked social media while driving?
Have I ever checked social media in the middle of a conversation?
Have I ever checked social media during an important meeting?
Have I ever checked social media while watching a movie, playing a game, or eating out with friends?
Have I ever scrolled through social media feeds when I should have been sleeping, studying, or something else?
If you answered “yes” to one or all of those questions, the system worked as its designers intended: your eyeballs glued to a screen, advertising dollars rolling in, and you missing out on the real world. Moderation is an option, but not for the addict.
If that’s you, consider opting out of the social media machine entirely.
What Are You Going To Do?
Social media is sucking you in and selling you for parts. But they can’t take away your ability to choose.
So, what are you going to do?
Limit your engagement?
It’s your life: make a decision and live it.
*this post first appeared at https://medium.com/@brandonboone