Thoughts On Social Media
How Making Money On The Medium Paywall Changed My Opinion Of Social Media
I started a separate Medium account just to try the paywall — I made about $900 in nine months, two of which were spent getting the 100 followers necessary for partnership, and then I submitted a draft article to HackerNoon describing how I did it.
…I was surprised that they rejected it, but in hindsight I can understand why. My opinion of paywalls changed when there was a dollar value attached to it. I went from more or less identifying with HackerNoon, a platform that passionately dislikes paywalls, to writing an article that their editors considered an advertisement of Medium.
What will follow in the rest of this post are my thoughts on social media. While reading it, please remember this: I am now someone who has made money on social media. No matter how scathing my criticism may be, I will have to ground it in order to avoid acknowledging the irony.
In a nutshell, my thoughts are that:
- Used excessively, social media deprives us of time we can spend alone with our thoughts — in doing so, it shortens our attention spans
- Social media is dangerous if used as a substitute for actual human connection, and it effectively distracts us from people we have genuine relationships with so that we can broadcast our lives to people we barely know
- Social media is dangerous to the youth, as well as to everyone of every age
- Social media influencers and marketing have converted their respective platforms into advertising schemes, leading to the prevalence of scams, multi-level marketing, and pyramid schemes
- Social media incentivizes controversy and misinformation over intelligent discussion and thorough research
If Medium Is Better, It Is Not Much Better
The rejected HackerNoon article described how I built a modest following of 450 followers on a Medium blog that specialized in satirical tech content. It mostly thrived on consistency, meaning there were more than weekly posts with the same tags that targeted the same niche: Tech humor.
Is the formula sustainable? I have no idea, but it has worked so far. Tech is extremely saturated, and humor is somewhat saturated, but not many people write humorous tech content. For this particular blog a few humorous tech posts have performed well, but the algorithm could change overnight.
Also, if Zulie Rane decides to make her tech content humorous, that’s it. The blog is finished.
I do like the Medium business model more than I like that of other social media. If you pay $5 a month for membership, then when you read a paywall-blocked article the author makes a little bit of that $5. That’s it.
Social Media And Our Attention Spans
The video above is, in my opinion, one of the best TEDx talks I have ever seen. I finished his book Hyperfocus last weekend, and I will not recommend it. I thought it was mostly just a re-hash of books like Deep Work and Flow. As for the TEDx Talk, I think the core idea is simple enough:
There are great benefits to sitting alone with our thoughts.
The same idea is reiterated in this video; the host argues for, no joke, sitting and staring at a wall for an hour. I can just imagine my grandpa shaking his fist in rage at this “productivity hack” (an alternative is a one-hour walk in nature), but in this bored state negative thoughts tend to emerge. It is this boredom and sadness, and the mind processing it, that allows us to come to terms with our lives.
To go on social media to check in with others is not, in and of itself, a terrible thing. The danger of social media is in what it replaces: The opportunity to grapple with what bothers us and figure out how to turn things around. To exacerbate the problem, social media encourages us to share a kind of “highlight reel.” Life becomes a carefully curated experience to an audience of hundreds of people. The platforms themselves do not promote content that is the most thought-provoking, the most thorough, or the most impactful — the platforms promote whatever content holds attention for the longest. In my experience, this mostly tends to be pretty generic photos with cliche captions describing the importance of slowing down to appreciate life, the value of the hustle, and why food is more enjoyable when you are eating it than when you are looking at a picture of it on Instagram.
For the last six months I have had Facebook and Instagram disabled. No one has noticed, possibly because I did not bother to disable messenger.
I think of it a little bit like this: When you share something on social media, you are broadcasting to an audience of people who are not aware of what you are currently doing. If you really want someone to know what you are doing, you can call them, you can email/text them, or you can meet them in person. When we share to social media, then, the main people we are reaching are the ones we have mutually decided are not worth calling, texting, or meeting.
This is understandable if the broadcasted information is something impersonal, like a business, but many people share extremely private information about their vacations, their children, and their current location.
I found a page called Social Media Quotes. I think Mark Zuckerberg says it pretty well:
“Think about what people are doing on Facebook today. They’re keeping up with their friends and family, but they’re also building an image and identity for themselves, which in a sense is their brand. They’re connecting with the audience that they want to connect to. It’s almost a disadvantage if you’re not on it now.” — — Mark Zuckerberg, Co-founder and CEO of Facebook
In short, social media accelerates a process by which people who, being normal humans, feel the need to cope with their emotional pain. The products, driven to maximize attention, incentivize users to share their experiences in a way that is as “snappy” as possible. Maybe their feeling of sadness must be very extreme. Maybe their happiness must be captured in a nice picture, a pun-encrusted caption. Then other users see what gets the most attention/likes, and they continue to share themselves in ways that are best rewarded by the imaginary metrics of the system. The engineers, the software products, and the users continue on this cycle until all that is left is a parody of real human experience, reduced to the fakest renditions of joy, conflict/resolution, and anger-inducing opinions. The social media platforms drive out the worst in humans and take them away from the real world, into a place of watered-down faux emotion, incapable of expressing themselves truly.
This Is Not Safe For Children
I used to get annoyed when people compared social media to alcohol or drugs…it is an exaggeration, and it kind of trivializes the dangers of actual drinking and drug-usage. But my opinion is a little different now, now that we are in the age of TikTok, and YouTube Shorts, and some other recent developments with a particular tech giant.
To someone who is very young, social media is unsafe. As the video above elaborates on, it makes the youth dependent on like metrics and distant comments — impersonal information — instead of on parental figures and whatever skills they will need to cope with real problems when they reach adulthood.
Of course, I’m writing this blog, so maybe it’s already too late for me. It is not too late for the next generation, though.
Is social media really that bad?
Yeah, I definitely think it might be.
I would say it is a little bit like this: Imagine you were a scientist who successfully converted morphine into a much more dangerous drug. After documenting your research, what would you do? You could warn people of the potential dangers and attempt to minimize the harm, or you could hire the world’s best scientists, commission them to replicate and then perfect your methods to create the most addicting form of the drug possible, then rush-ship it to every high school, middle school, and elementary school so that you could make as much money as possible as quickly as you could. By the time the DEA caught wind of your existence, you would have enough power to reduce your country’s government into a mere puppet state, incapable of regulating you as you brought pain and misery to everyone in your path.
I think a particular company is more or less doing the latter as we speak. That being said, as far as tech companies are concerned I think social media companies are far from being the most unethical.