- Richard Farr
Pry social media from your own trembling hands?
Should you place a hood over the evil Facebook, blast Twitter out of its tree, and rip up all your Instagrams?
You really should, according to Jaron Lanier’s new jeremiad, but the backlash has been swift – it’s an elitist point of view; people just can’t; etc. etc.
Guardian writer Oliver Burkeman talks about Lanier’s suggestion in this column, and makes this point (emphasis added) to the no-way-José-sayers:
The thorny issue here – when it comes to whether you, personally, should abandon social media – is that [the difficulty of quitting] also serves as a convenient excuse. When you’re addicted to something, you’re obviously biased in favour of arguments suggesting it’s unrealistic to quit. So, while some people may genuinely face social isolation by deleting Facebook, or professional ruin by leaving LinkedIn, chances are you’re not among them – even if you feel pretty sure you are. It’s more likely you’re telling yourself that story to spare yourself being deprived of social media’s comfortably sedative effects, and being left alone with your thoughts instead.
It’s easy for me to agree with this – I’ve never had a Twitter account and never wanted one, and I quit (my very limited use of) Facebook over the Cambridge Analytica affair, a scandal that seems to me far more poisonous in its political implications than most people ever grasped.
But Burkeman has a point: “There’s no way out” is a claim about the user’s state of mind as much as the social reality that created that state of mind, and it’s a scarily telling thing to be saying. Behavior around social media is a lot like behavior around tobacco: when you’re addicted you’re addicted, and your own behavior seems normal, ordinary, even blandly enjoyable; when you’re not, it can seem terrible, sad, and revolting.
For a deeper but very readable dive into just how disturbing a disease Facebook is, read Jacob Weisberg’s The Autocracy App, which also discusses Lanier, in the New York Review of Books.