Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier

★★★★★ (5/5)

I see some top GR reviews for this book slating the content and in particular, the writing style. I begin to wonder if a book with such a diverse scope deserves to be judged according to what I would call “literary” parameters. Of course to each his own, but for me, this was dense, thought-provoking and a fundamental read – so much so that the very idea of judging the writing style did not cross my mind (and I am quick to judge in this regard).

Lanier’s ideas are rooted, not unhinged from reality nor constructed out of conspiratorial phantasm. He puts forward a tangible theory as to why it is pertinent for us to delete (or diminish considerably) our social media presence, then presents a working hypothesis alongside general and personal observations, citations and concludes with a variety of proofs as to how and why social media has an indefensible and interminable role in our lives, primarily as interlopers.

The core of Lanier’s theories revolve around the realisation that all of social media is directed at influencing & modifying our behaviour, and these behaviour modification tools are solely aimed at churning big bucks for the puppeteers, those who hold the reins to steer the world either this way or that.

Advertisers, bots, fake profiles, incendiary comments, low self esteem, rat-race for likes, little dents or highs for one’s ego are all money making tools no matter how trivial or indirect. Communal feelings are completely dispensed off. In a more open and connected world, individuals are increasingly stifled which threatens progress for the entire human race. Additionally, the concept of free-will is being challenged as social media users become unwitting stooges and lab rats.

Lanier purports that social media has become its own worst enemy, and with that threatens to drown humanity by removing us from reality (or by becoming a mere obstacle in man’s search for reality). The internet in itself is blameless, but the self-indulgent machinations that have been put in place are outweighing the collective good of an interconnected world.

Lanier’s arguments were mindful of the diversity of social media users. And since they weren’t didactic in nature, this book has left an indelible mark on me. I have always consciously steered clear of social media fads, trends, happenings and made it a point to not be affected by momentary lapses of others in which they blindly follow one and then another. But clearly this isn’t enough. I did not delete my social media accounts but removed their apps from my phone which, I observed, minimised my usage of them. Perhaps this is the first step to freedom.

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

Argument One: You are losing your free will.

  • We’re being tracked and measured constantly, and receiving engineered feedback all the time.
  • Now everyone who is on social media is getting individualized, continuously adjusted stimuli, without a break, so long as they use their smartphones. What might once have been called advertising must now be understood as continuous behavior modification on a titanic scale.
  • what has become suddenly normal—pervasive surveillance and constant, subtle manipulation—is unethical, cruel, dangerous, and inhumane.
  • Awareness is the first step to freedom.
  • Using symbols instead of real rewards has become an essential trick in the behavior modification toolbox.
  • Back to the surprising phenomenon: it’s not that positive and negative feedback work, but that somewhat random or unpredictable feedback can be more engaging than perfect feedback.
  • The algorithm is trying to capture the perfect parameters for manipulating a brain, while the brain, in order to seek out deeper meaning, is changing in response to the algorithm’s experiments;
  • What started as advertising morphed into what would better be called “empires of behavior modification for rent.”

Argument Two: Quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times.

  • Similarly, smart people should delete their accounts until nontoxic varieties are available
  • The world is changing rapidly under our command, so doing nothing is not an option. We don’t have as much in the way of rigorous science as would be ideal for understanding our situation, but we have enough results to describe the problem we must solve, just not a lot of time in which to solve it.
  • If you hang out in Silicon Valley, you’ll hear a lot of chatter about how money is becoming obsolete, how we’re creating forms of power and influence that transcend money. Yet everybody still seems to be chasing money!
  • Underlying incentives tend to overpower policies. The way that people get around rules in order to chase incentives often makes the world into a darker and more dangerous place.
  • Invisible social vandalism ensues. Social pressure, which is so influential in human psychology and behavior, is synthesized.

Argument Three: Social media is making you into an asshole.

  • The deeply addicted person’s rhythm becomes nervous, a compulsive pecking at his situation; he’s always deprived, rushing for affirmation.
  • You know the adage that you should choose a partner on the basis of who you become when you’re around the person? That’s a good way to choose technologies, too.
  • We were all in the same stew, manipulating each other, inflating ourselves.
  • Another example: Democratic elections are a genuine commingling of ideas, and have historically helped societies find paths forward despite controversy, but only so long as people are switched to Solitary. Democracy fails when the switch is set to Pack. Tribal voting, personality cults, and authoritarianism are the politics of the Pack setting.
  • collective processes make the best sense when participants are acting as individuals.

Argument Four: Social media is undermining truth.

  • When what people can be made to perceive is the product sold by some of the richest corporations, then obviously truth must suffer. The loss of truth is the product.

Argument Five: Social media is making what you say meaningless.

  • You have to become crazy extreme if you want to say something that will survive even briefly in an unpredictable context.
  • To become a number is to be explicitly subservient to a system. A number is a public verification of reduced freedom, status, and personhood.
  • too much clickbait lowers the level of public discourse

Argument Six: Social Media is destroying your capacity for empathy.

  • Your own views are soothingly reinforced, except when you are presented with the most irritating versions of opposing views, as calculated by algorithms. Soothe or savage: whatever best keeps your attention
  • To have a theory of mind is to build a story in your head about what’s going on in someone else’s head. Theory of mind is at the core of any sense of respect or empathy, and it’s a prerequisite to any hope of intelligent cooperation, civility, or helpful politics. It’s why stories exist.
  • When you can only see how someone else behaves, but not the experiences that influenced their behavior, it becomes harder to have a theory of mind about that person
  • The speed, idiocy, and scale of false social perceptions have been amplified to the point that people often don’t seem to be living in the same world, the real world, anymore.
  • Public space lost dimension, but also commonality in general has been desiccated.

Argument Seven: Social media is making you unhappy.

  • It will dole out sparse charms in between the doldrums as well, since the autopilot that tugs at your emotions will discover that the contrast between treats and punishment is more effective than either treats or punishment alone
  • Your whims and quirks are under the microscope of powers greater than you for the first time
  • We in Silicon Valley like to watch the ants dig harder into their dirt. They send us money as we watch

Argument Eight: Social media doesn’t want you to have economic dignity.

  • Gig economy workers rarely achieve financial security, even after years of work. To put it another way, the level of risk in their financial lives seems to never decline, no matter how much they’ve achieved.
  • The fantasy of human obsolescence not only undervalues people, but often makes supposed AI programs less functional because no one is motivated to improve the underlying data.

Argument Nine: Social media is making politics impossible.

  • BUMMER undermines the political process and hurts millions of people, but so many of those very same people are so addicted that all they can do is praise BUMMER because they can use it to complain about the catastrophes it just brought about.
  • What social media did at that time, and what it always does, is create illusions: that you can improve society by wishes alone; that the sanest people will be favored in cutting contests; and that somehow material well-being will just take care of itself. What actually happens, always, is that the illusions fall apart when it is too late, and the world is inherited by the crudest, most selfish, and least informed people. Anyone who isn’t an asshole gets hurt the most.
  • Gangs had ruled history’s many killing fields, but now, loners were “self-radicalizing.”
  • They get enough attention to outpace the well-meaning people who just won victories. They exhume horrible prejudices and hatreds that haven’t seen the light of day for years, and they make those hatreds mainstream.
  • BUMMER is neither liberal nor conservative; it is just pro-paranoia, pro-irritability, and pro–general assholeness.
  • It’s as if Facebook is saying, “Pay us or you don’t exist.” They’re becoming the existential mafia.
  • What made them shift to be more targetable by behavior modification messages over time? The purpose was not to repress the movement but to earn money. The process was automatic, routine, sterile, and ruthless.
  • A slice of latent white supremacists and racists who had previously not been well identified, connected, or empowered was blindly, mechanically discovered and cultivated, initially only for automatic, unknowing commercial gain—but that would have been impossible without first cultivating a slice of BUMMER black activism and algorithmically figuring out how to frame it as a provocation.
  • A social media company is in a better position if it doesn’t know what’s going on, because then it makes just as much money, but with less culpability.

Argument Ten: Social media hates your soul.

  • Your understanding of others has been disrupted because you don’t know what they’ve experienced in their feeds, while the reverse is also true; the empathy others might offer you is challenged because you can’t know the context in which you’ll be understood. You’re probably becoming more of an asshole, but you’re also probably sadder; another pair of BUMMER disruptions that are mirror images. Your ability to know the world, to know truth, has been degraded, while the world’s ability to know you has been corrupted
  • You might launch an infectious meme about a political figure, and you might be making a great point, but in the larger picture, you are reinforcing the idea that virality is truth. Your point will be undone by whatever other point is more viral
  • Acknowledging ignorance is a beautiful feature that science and spirituality hold in common. BUMMER rejects it
  • The purpose of life, according to BUMMER, is to optimize. According to Google: “Organize the world’s information.” But per the typical Silicon Valley worldview, everything is information. Matter will be hacked, the human body will be hacked, and so on. Therefore, Google’s mission statement reads, within tech culture, as “Organize all reality.”
  • Facebook has pulled ahead: A recent revision in its statement of purpose includes directives like assuring that “every single person has a sense of purpose and community.”5 A single company is going to see to it that every single person has a purpose, because it presumes that was lacking before. If that is not a new religion, I don’t know what is
  • if you perceive a sense of positivity, of grace and progressive creativity in the world, then perhaps experience connects to more
  • The BUMMER business is interwoven with a new religion that grants empathy to computer programs—calling them AI programs—as a way to avoid noticing that it is degrading the dignity, stature, and rights of real humans.
  • If you design a society to suppress belief in consciousness and experience—to reject any exceptional nature to personhood—then maybe people can become like machines.
  • “In many ways nonsense is a more effective organizing tool than the truth. Anyone can believe in the truth. To believe in nonsense is an unforgeable demonstration of loyalty. It serves as a political uniform. And if you have a uniform, you have an army.”

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