Monday Musings: The Toxicity of Social Media, or: Make the Internet Fun Again

This is kind of a long one kids, so strap in.

The pandemic of 2020 has brought me a lot of reflection and re-evaluation. As of the time I’m writing this, except for a brief visit where I picked up some files on an external hard drive, it’s been a little over six months since I stepped foot in the office of the company I work for. I’m lucky enough that being a graphic designer for an online company means that I can work from home, but without having any travel time or nights out with friends and co-workers, it means I have a LOT more “free” time on my hands. And I’ve been using a lot of that time to reflect on habits and patterns I’ve picked up.

One thing I noticed back in June was that I was spending WAY too much time on various social media platforms. I could tell, because I was perpetually mad at politicians (on all sides; as a voter, I’m registered “no party” — Politics is another Monday Musing topic that I may or may not ever get to), and constantly in fear of COVID-19, as well being anxious over the frankly bizarre reactions to the anti-Police-Brutality protests that began at the end of May.

The fact is, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram, TikTok, Reddit, and dozens of others all want one thing: Money from advertisers. How do they get that money? They tell the advertisers, “Look at how many people are on our platform and how long they stay there. If you pay us money, this percentage of people will see your ad.” And then their algorithms look at the kinds of posts you and the people on your friends list interact with, and feed you more of those kinds of posts. But it’s not a pure algorithm, because people can also pay money to have their posts seen by more people.

Which means, people with money and agendas are manipulating what it is you see. And people who know how the human brain works are creating articles and posts that are more likely to get you to interact with them. Which means the algorithms feed you more of that content, which gets you to stay on the social media platforms longer, which means there’s a better chance you’ll see the ads, which means the platforms can charge more money for advertising, etc., etc. The Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, goes into far more detail about this, and I highly suggest anybody with access to a Netflix account watch it.

So how does that relate to me?

Sometime in late June or early July, I kinda realized that most of my feeds were being taken up with people reacting to news items with VERY attention-getting headlines. And I needed to get away from the negative emotions and anxiety that it was causing me.

Around the same time, I was also going through a lot of the media I owned; DVDs, comics, books, video games, etc., and re-evaluating what I wanted to keep and what I could move on to new owners who could get enjoyment out of those things. Most second-hand shops aren’t taking in items right now because of the pandemic, which is understandable, but it got me to box up a lot of stuff for when they ARE taking things in again. And, as you might suspect, going through old media got me nostalgic for the past.

So combine those two things; Disgust at social media and nostalgia for the past, and it got me thinking about the pre-social media internet days. I used to spend HOURS every day online. What did I fill my time with before Facebook and Twitter and YouTube?

Personal websites and blogs.

Oh, shit! I have one of those! I’ve been paying for ownership of PsychoAndy.com since 2005, and I update it, what, like three or four times a year with globs of new art? Well that seems counter-intuitive. I’m always making stuff, and I have a TON of things that I HAVE made that either aren’t currently on PsychoAndy.com, or never have been, or are just up there as a piece of art with no description or context.

And THAT got me thinking, I used to update this website a lot more. Like, at least once a week. Why did I stop? Oh, because all my attention and energy went into posting stuff on social media, for those little dopamine hits that the “like” or “heart” reactions would get.

So why am I giving my content away to these other platforms, where it’s probably not getting seen by ANYBODY, because they’re all busy re-posting clickbait-y news articles and bitching about politics and information manipulation?

So, no more. No more posting my art or anything on social media. If you want to see my work, you need to come here, PsychoAndy.com. I’ve already deleted my DeviantArt, Tumblr and Reddit accounts, and I’m probably going to abandon if not outright delete more of them before the end of the year.

The Internet used to be full of so much weird, cool, experimental stuff. It used to be full of people expressing themselves through their creativity. And now it’s just full of people bitching about that out-of-context sound bite some politician said, because some news site paid to promote that article and now more people see that than the actual content they want to see.

Well I say, screw that! Let’s make the Internet fun again.

Let’s go back to giving people places to go that aren’t just the dumpster fire repositories that we’ve let social media become. Let’s all start making new content and destination websites, and use social media to share those destinations. Let’s drown out the promoted posts that are being used to divide us by MAKING and SHARING so much REAL CONTENT that the people who are profiting off the the current social media models can’t do so any more.

And there’s no way to get people to do stuff than to lead by example. Which is why I’m now in my 3rd month of daily updates.

But I can’t do this alone.

So, go start a site on WordPress or Wix or Blogger or Weebly or one of the other DOZENS of free services. Share your creativity. Share your art. Share your expression. Share your gramma’s chocolate chip cookie recipe. Share reviews of movies or TV shows you’re watching or video games you’re playing while you’re at home. Even if it’s something you think nobody will have any interest in, the one thing I have definitely learned in my twenty-plus years on the Internet is that there’s a community for literally everything. But if you never put it out there, nobody will ever find it.

“But Andy, I won’t get paid for all that work.”

Yeah, but you also aren’t getting paid for sharing memes on Facebook.

If you feel like updating once a day is too much for you, update once or twice a week. Set like a Monday-Wednesday-Friday, or Tuesday-Thursday update schedule for yourself.

And, after a couple of months? You’ll have a repository of work that shows you can DO something. It will show that you can stick to deadlines. It will be the kind of work ethic that employers will find valuable. And wouldn’t it be a great story to say that you completely changed your life by spending less time on Instagram?

And let’s bring back link-share pages, so we can all direct people to other people who make content we like! Let’s make all of our websites so popular that the advertisers come to us, and give you and me the money instead of social media platforms!

So please. Take a step away from social media. Just spend an hour a day that you would have spent scrolling through your various timelines away, and instead work on whatever side website thing you decide to do. Make people come to you, and don’t give your content away to a platform you can’t control.

Let’s make the Internet fun again.

All of us.

Together.

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