“What I’m excited about is helping people deliver and experience a much stronger sense of presence with the people they care about.”1
When Mark Zuckerberg says these lines, I can’t help but feel scared. But why? Isn’t social media such a wonderful tool for connecting with people?
Social Media and the lone scroller
Marion Fourcade and Fleur Johns, in their research article, Loops, ladders and links: the recursivity of social and machine learning suggest that “machine-learned sociality, as it manifests on social media, tends to be competitive and individualizing.”2 In fact this is not incidental according to them. The architecture of these social media platforms are intentional. The idea of measuring social connectedness by the number of likes or retweets is built into the platforms.
Fourcade and Johns also point out how most Social Media applications have an infinite scrolling (without requiring users to reload the page) design which resemble the design of a “slot machine” to keep users hooked. The construction of such architecture is always economically motivated – to maximize ad revenue. The popularity of TikTok and Instagram Reels where the user passively keeps scrolling infinitely to consume content is the epitome of this mind numbing Social Media architecture. The idea is to remove agency from the user and make the user just a number – a statistical data for ad revenue.
How should we deal with loneliness?
Loneliness is not good for us. Studies have found poor social relationships to be associated with a 29 percent increase in risk of coronary heart disease and a 32 percent rise in the risk of stroke.3 In fact, loneliness could be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes in a day.4
But how does one deal with loneliness? Miriam Kirmayer, a clinical psychologist wrote a piece for The Guardian titled “It’s time to rethink what loneliness is.”3 She says that one of the reasons people feel lonely is due to wrong beliefs about what friendship is. Many people wrongly prioritize quantity over quality. In fact, what is interesting is that she claims that loneliness is not the same thing as being alone. One does wonder how much of such faulty beliefs are being propagated by social media – the prioritizing of likes and comments over a simple phone call (which will not get those likes).
In fact, Yale University’s Happiness Professor Laurie Santos says that having fun, which according to her, is important to being happy, is not “flopping down in front of Netflix with a bottle of wine and doomscrolling on social media… spending so much time passively consuming content on our screens has had an enormous negative impact on our ability to have fun.” True fun according to her involves a state of being active and present with people – playing games, involving in witty banter, or singing karaoke with friends.5
Zuckerberg and the Metaverse
When Mark Zuckerberg said those words previously quoted, he was giving an interview about “The Metaverse” – the new buzzword in the Tech-world, described as a convergence of physical, augmented, and virtual reality in a shared online space.
And here is why I am scared about Zuckerberg talking about bringing people together. Considering how much of our lives and our happiness are already determined by the algorithms on these social media platforms, and considering how much social media is literally making us sad, do we want Zuckerberg to determine how social relationships are to be navigated between us in the future? The most scary part may be that this future may not even be that far!
- Mark Zuckerberg is betting Facebook’s future on the metaverse – The Verge
- Loops, ladders and links: the recursivity of social and machine learning (Fourcade & Johns, 2020)
- The “Loneliness Epidemic” | Official web site of the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration (hrsa.gov)
- It’s time to rethink what loneliness is | Miriam Kirmayer | The Guardian
- Ready for the roaring 20s? It’s time to re-learn how to have fun, says happiness professor | Life and style | The Guardian