Shiny New Things

For what seems like the longest time I’ve bean an avid embracer of anything new in the tech sphere, especially so on the Web. I think I created my first home page back in early 1995 (unfortunately it vanished before The Web Archive could crawl it), and around the same time I had a GeoCities page, also lost to history. Then followed Hotmail, GMail, Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, about.me, Instagram and a bunch of others I can’t recall.

In recent years I’ve found that I’ve lost my almost compulsive desire to try every shiny new thing, especially in the realm of the Web, this post is an exploration of how that has come to be the case.

Social Media Fatigue

In the mid-to late noughties the whole social media thing kicked into high gear and with the emergence of mobile, the amount of time my eyeballs spent gazing endlessly over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc skyrocketed. I got hooked into the cycle of posting whatever flimflam from my life, trying to grow my ‘network’, chasing the instant gratification of likes and re-tweets and all the other algorithmic sugar pills that social media dealt out.

That went on for a couple of years, but eventually it got repetitive. I think Instagram was the first one I quit, having a moment of lucidity about the sheer emptiness of posting some photo from a night out, being more caught up in the capturing of the moment, than the actual enjoyment of the moment. Deleted the app from my phone, shuttered my account.

Not too long after, I disengaged from Facebook, it had changed, fewer of my peers were posting regularly, mostly just the noisy few, the ones who shared too much. My feed was being algorithmically bludgeoned with viral reposts and shares, interspersed with 2 bit advertisements. Eventually I uninstalled Facebook from my phone and then some time after nuked my account.

I was still on Twitter, because it was relevant to my work, but I got consumed with checking my feed, hashtagging the English language to death, and obsessing about likes, retweets and my ‘social media reach’.

As network effects compounded, the level of discourse on Twitter went from occasionally interesting, mildly amusing, but mostly harmless, to frequently annoying, many-times unkind, and only rarely useful.

A year or more back, I decided I’d had enough of Twitter to last me a lifetime, so I uninstalled the app and made my account private.

Annoyingly, and shamefully, I then found myself using LinkedIn as the substitute for my Twitter addiction.

You know you’ve hit rock bottom when checking LinkedIn is a thing you do multiple times a day. Anyways after a few months of that I copped on. I deliberately set my password to a really long instantly forgettable random string, and logged out.

Feeling Better

Now that I look back on my social-media ‘phase’ the one thing that stands out in my memory is the sense of unshackling myself, each time I emboldened myself to quit a platform. Each time I quit there was a small but precious sense of release, a letting-go of unecessary noise in my life.

Network effects bring Noise

A lot of the technology world is hooked on the ideology of chasing ‘Network Effects’, seeking the holy grail of hockey stick growth and the 1000X return, but the flipside of that strategy is that such a level of success brings with it the seemingly insurmountable problem of ‘noisiness’. The bigger the network, the more noise there is, and beyond a certain point that noise overwhelms the network and starts to negatively affect the value of the network.

In recent times we have seen that various actors have found they can harness this ‘noise’ to amplify their own agendas, by sowing divison, dissent and mistrust, turning tools created to connect us to together, into devices to divide us.

I expect that we are only at the start of how this ‘noise’ can be weaponized, there will probably be several more iterations before the majority become either savvy to these efforts (and thus, to some degree innoculated against them) or disenchanted enough to abandon these platforms.

Over time I expect new platforms will emerge offering some form of novelty, and existing platforms will rot away. Maybe those new platforms will innovate and find ways to constrain noise, or maybe they’ll just remain pleasantly socialable hamlets for a period of time until network effects once again turn them into unfriendly and lonely ghettos.

What I’ve learned over the past decade is that for my overall well-being, I’m best off staying away from platforms seeking to monetize me, so I’m not planning to engage in any future platforms that may emerge.

For me, social media is in the past.