Quit social media now, new book says; it’s making you sadder, angrier and more isolated

A book review by Trevor Bailey

JARON LANIER SPEAKS AT HARVARD
Author Jaron Lanier: On their first date, according to the NY Times, his girl friend concerned about his appearance took him to a laundromat                      Photo: Undark

Buddhists call it “lilas”. The futile pursuit of triviality*. What better description of social media? Now a new book tells you to quit. In “Ten Arguments to Delete Your Social Media Accounts Right Now”, Author Jaron Lanier says social media is making us sadder, angrier and more isolated.

Jaron is said to have been present at the creation. Of the Internet. He was Chief Scientist at Internet2. His dishevelled, pot-bellied, dread-locked appearance led his girl friend on their first date, according to the NY Times, to take him to a laundromat.

He writes that Facebook and Google are “behaviour manipulation empires”. “Pervasive surveillance and constant subtle manipulation are unethical, cruel, dangerous and inhumane.” Social media is making us sadder, angrier, and more isolated. Vulnerable people on the edge are driven towards mental illness, even suicide.

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Jaron Lanier         Photo:  Zimbio

The concept of random reinforcement is well understood: addiction fed not by reward but by never knowing whether or when the reward will come. “The algorithm tries 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… Because the stimuli from the algorithm doesn’t mean anything, because they genuinely are random, the brain isn’t responding to anything real, but to fiction. That process — of becoming hooked on an elusive image — is addiction.”

Jaron writes we have pack behaviours and solitary behaviours. In the pack we compete, often like an animal. On our own, “we are more free, more cautious and more capable of joy”. The founders of the Internet unwittingly created conditions for monopolies. “A thousand flowers were never going to bloom. There’s only room for one and it’s a Venus fly-trap.”

“Everyone knew that software would become more important than law, so the prospect of a world run on hidden code was dark and creepy.” On what social media does to politics, “it is not biased towards the left or right, but downwards.”

What does social media do to our emotions? “Triggering emotions is the highest prize and as negative emotions are easier to trigger, of course social media makes you sad. When your consumption on the Internet is of postings by people like you, how could your view not become narrower and narrower. How can empathy and respect for others survive in this environment?”

JARON LANIER’S TEN ARGUMENTS FOR QUITTING SOCIAL MEDIA

ARGUMENT 1: You are losing your free will

A2: Quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times

A3: Social media is making you an asshole

A4: Social media is undermining truth

A5: Social media is making what you say meaningless

A6: Social media is destroying your capacity for empathy

A7: Social media is making you unhappy

A8: Social media does not want you to have economic dignity

A9: Social media is making politics impossible

A10: Social media hates your soul

“Ten Arguments to Delete Your Social Media Accounts Right Now” is published by Henry Holt & Company, ISBN 9781250196682.

* John Fowles in “The Magus”

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