August 01, 2018

August 2018: Purpose-Driven Social Media

facebook mind control
Somebody must have removed the social
media chip from this mind control device?
Remember that thing called lesser magic? Sure you do: it's the subtle manipulation of people and circumstances through wile and guile for the purpose of guiding choices and events toward your preferred outcome. Lesser magic informs a large part of my approach to fortune-telling -- not that this is any secret given that I've written an entire book on the subject -- but to an extent it also informs a large part of my world-view. I'll accept that there are dangers in always looking for a third-side perspective and trying to be savvy to others' lesser magic -- if I'm convinced that there's always a different truth just beneath the surface of evident reality and am always on guard against being hoodwinked, then this predisposes me to paranoia and accepting conspiracy theories -- but I still think it's important to be aware of how others are attempting to influence how I use my limited time and energy.

Perfect example of this is social media, and here's my sharpest opinion yet: social media is an addictive drug, and the platforms where one uses social media are pushers. I'll be the first to say that there's no such thing as social media addiction -- after all, "addiction" is a specific, clinical term which discusses chemical changes within the body -- but there's absolutely such a thing as social media compulsion, and it's absolutely by design. The companies who create platforms to host social media interactions are deliberately creating their own Skinner boxes which compel users to repeatedly check for status updates, renew for fresh content, and above all to feel anxious that they're missing out on something important. Throw into the mix the fact that users of social media are curating their feeds to persuade others (and maybe even themselves?) that they're more attractive, successful, powerful, or other quality, and this creates an environment where users constantly questioning their own beauty, success, accomplishments, or self worth, and it quickly becomes unhealthy.

Or at least, it does for me. A rule that I've been diligently trying to follow not just on this blog but in my life generally is to speak only for myself, and to be very careful about making universal statements. Sure enough, I've got some broad opinions, but I try to be specific when I'm making a personal statement, versus what I believe to be universally applicable to everybody, everywhere. And while there's a small body of academic research (and a large body of anecdotal evidence) commenting on the worst aspects of social media, what I can say from my own experience is that it's remarkably difficult for me to withstand the lesser magic of social media pushers.

I think you probably know how this goes: I tell myself, "I'll only follow this one community." But next thing I know, I'm following 20 communities. I tell myself, "I'm only going to upvote or like the things I enjoy, and downvote or just ignore the stuff I don't enjoy." But next thing I know, I'm waist-deep into the comment section and arguing with random strangers about the average airspeed of an unladen swallow (both African and European.) I tell myself, "But it's okay, because social media keeps me in touch with the thought communities that are important to me." Next thing I know, I'm refreshing feeds every hour searching for the new post that makes the hours spent searching for it worthwhile. I tell myself, "I love this!," and yet, by using an app to record my moods in conjunction with how I spend my time, social media is something I do not enjoy (if you're curious to know, I've learned that my best moods are experienced when I'm doing mundane housework.)

Yeah, social media... no matter what I tell myself, I can't argue with the evidence that my mood consistently suffers when I use social media, and scrolling through feeds is particularly bad for me. I mean, if I want to just instantly feel depressed, lonely, and unimportant, then all I need do is load up the nearest social media feed and just start scrolling -- the effect is almost immediate. Me being who I am, I don't enjoy feeling sad or isolated, and yet... there I am, scrolling away, and wondering why I keep doing something that I don't enjoy. Boy howdy, that sure sounds like the behavior of an addict, doesn't it? The pushers wouldn't have it any other way: they have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to maximize profit, even if that means encouraging compulsive behavior in their users. 

But I've got a personal responsibility to myself, and after probably more than a year and a half of talking about how I'm reducing my use of social media, I've finally conquered that particular compulsion and I did so with one rule: Any use of social media must be driven by purpose. That is, I must have a specific and compelling reason to visit a social web, and that specific and compelling reason should be intimately connected to something that I'm already doing in real life, something whose existence is not dependent on social media. Do you see how this works? Following this principle, I should never be in the position that I'm randomly scrolling through a feed or mindlessly reviewing status updates. The only reason that I should get onto a social web is because I have a valid need or compelling reason to do so based on a specific interest or activity which is not rooted in an online community, and once I've asked a question in order to resolve my need or reason, I leave the social web and wait for an answer.

An example of this is my interest in Esperanto, a planned language intended to promote communication between countries, cultures, and people. There are a lot of very busy groups, forums, and channels I could join for access to basically unlimited interactions, but what purpose would it serve? What am I gaining from sifting through an infinite feed of status updates hoping to stumble onto the equivalent of a needle in a haystack? It's a fucking waste of time. In this example the way I observe the principle of purpose-driven social media is by joining only a select number of groups and turning on notifications. If I have a question about the language or a special event, I can visit the relevant group to ask my question and then leave. With notifications turned on, I don't even have to visit the website to read responses to my questions or stay updated about the latest events and announcements -- they come straight to my email inbox where I can review them at my own leisure and outside the confines of the pusher's drug den.

The fundamental principles of purpose-driven social media are to reduce compulsion, increase productivity, and preserve happiness. After using a diary-method to cross-reference my moods against my activities and learning that social media is something that increases compulsion, decreases productivity, and erodes happiness, I've found it much easier to fight back against the lesser magic of social media and develop my own strategies of making it work for me on my own terms. This does nothing to change my opinion that social media is a drug being dispensed by money-minded pushers, but if I'm aware of the lesser magic they're working against me to sell their dope, then I know how to counter their rituals and deny them the compulsion they desire.

I'm done wasting my time, and purpose-driven use of social media is how I stay happy, productive, and healthy. If you ever feel like the pushers are taking advantage of you with their lesser magic, then who knows? Maybe you'd benefit from a policy of purpose-driven social media, too.


  1. James, this is a very sensible approach to handling social media. I am only on Facebook, and joined it when it was designed as a tool for academia....waaay back in 2006 I believe. I haven’t joined any other social media network. Your observations on the addiction aspects are spot on!

    1. Thanks for joining the conversation, Kevin. Hahaha, Facebook in 2006 -- what a change 12 years will make in the life of a platform, huh? I wonder if anybody then could foresee what their platform was growing into.


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