Early Social Builders Are Finally Questioning the Effects Of Tech on our Lives
"It's my opportunity… to correct a wrong."
In an age where we revere any new technology and can’t wait to push past the thresholds we initially had in a long-forgotten life before smartphones, it’s uncommon that we see early social builders questioning the effects of tech. We’re meant to see technology as a good thing, right? (Well, aside from all the robots who are going to take all our jobs.)
Enter the Center for Humane Technology. You read that right—humane, not human.
Facebook and Google’s early investors and engineers are banding together, according to the New York Times, in a partnership with Common Sense Media to create the Truth About Tech campaign that targets social media and the effects of tech people’s brains, mainly children. The campaign is somewhat modeled after the highly successful anti-tobacco campaigns with which I’m sure you’re familiar if you own a TV.
It’s been a long time coming.
Social has become a necessity in our lives. In fact, I saw a caption from a social media influencer just this week that said that she’s posting an old photo of her and her significant other because she doesn’t have a new one and she feels compelled to post. Think about that for a moment. There’s nothing about that statement you would’ve understood in 2008. But now you might read that and think, “yep.”
Who are we if we’re not posting to social, if we’re not “relevant” there? How much of the social media world has become our real world? Who do we follow on Instagram that we’ve met in real life? Of those that we do know in real life, how much of our interactions are offline? And smaller still, how many are face to face?
The really scary thing is how quickly it's happened. As a social marketer, I’ve watched the growth of advertising, branding and marketing trends over the last few years jump. But personally, I’ve noticed it too. More people “having to take a break," more people insisting upon sharing accounts with a significant other, more people having timers on their phones to monitor use. And that's just the adults.
Facebook has clearly felt the pressure to change its influence. In the last couple of weeks, we've seen statements about algorithms changes aimed at creating more positive connections and even–gasp–spending less time on the platform. But how much of this is driven by an internal need to right the negative societal trends and how much is a response to external pressures to better serve the social communities?
There's no denying that social media has created a much, much smaller world. That is, you are able to know what’s going on in different countries or cultures with nary a click. I can learn about any subculture I desire–and even those that I don't. You could watch a video auto-roll and suddenly become driven to help. But, as the Times article quotes, so much of it appeals to our “lizard brain, mostly fear and anger.” So just as quickly, you can watch a video and be driven to anger about an issue you hadn't realized was an issue moments before. Does this ultimately cause an empathic overload in people that will result in not caring about anything at all? Take, for example, the current political climate. It feels like no matter what "side" you're on, there's something new to be outraged about every single day. Eventually, it's bound to increase our threshold for what to be outraged about (I'd argue that it has already).
There's no precedent here. In the past, things have moved at a relatively slower pace. There were your parents or grandparents' generations who didn't understand today's youth with their slang and their pants and their commercials. But the "generations" are speeding up with the introduction of new technology and a faster-paced, ever-changing landscape. Millennials are supposedly a 25 year span of births, but I would venture to say that anyone who owned a Motorola Razr should be distinct from those who grew up with iPhones.
When we see new information on social, how much of it makes us see red and how much of it opens our minds? How much of it challenges what we know and encourages us to change? How much of it creates awareness, but just until the next scroll? And how much of these answers are algorithms influencing (I actually think I know the answer to this one: all of them)?
Obviously, deeper analysis is needed on a large scale. But how much have you observed in your own life? How has social media affected the way you digest information, connect with people and perceive issues? Sound off: We’re @matchstickscl on Twitter. (And yes, the irony is not lost on me.)