I Am Addicted to Social Media

One of the ways I try to get people to understand just how wrong feeds from places like Facebook are is to think about Wikipedia. When you go to a page, you’re seeing the same thing as other people. So it’s one of the few things online that we at least hold in common.

Now just imagine for a second that Wikipedia said, “We’re gonna give each person a different customized definition, and we’re gonna be paid by people for that.” So, Wikipedia would be spying on you. Wikipedia would calculate, “What’s the thing I can do to get this person to change a little bit on behalf of some commercial interest?” Right? And then it would change the entry.

Can you imagine that? Well, you should be able to, because that’s exactly what’s happening on Facebook. It’s exactly what’s happening in your YouTube feed.

—Jaron Lanier, from the documentary The Social Dilemma

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

This is not the blogpost I originally started writing.

The first draft of my blogpost is quoted below:

As I lie on the sofa in my darkened apartment, listening to an LGBTQ “Queeraoke” room in Clubhouse (and wondering if I have the audacity to inflict my pitchy tenor voice on the assembly), it occurs to me that my relationship with social media has evolved significantly since I started this blog, a little over four years ago.

I don’t kid myself; my divorce from Facebook (not so much a single event as a series of steps), led not to a reduction in my use of social media, but an overall increase, something about which I have strong mixed feelings about. (It would appear that I am not alone in this: I have noticed a significant uptick in recent views of a blogpost I wrote about Jaron Lanier’s 10 reasons to quit social media, according to my WordPress blog statistics.)

Spending so much of my time in social isolation since the pandemic started 20 months ago, I find myself spending varying amounts of time every day on five wildly disparate social media platforms: Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, Discord, and (the newcomer) Clubhouse. I tell myself that it helps me stay connected to other people, but I also

And then, like so many other blogposts I write, I set it aside, literally mid-sentence, to complete on another day, when the muse struck.

Well, today is another day.

And it is a day that I started watching a one-and-a-half hour documentary on Netflix, which is also available to watch for free on YouTube: The Social Dilemma. And, as it happens, Jaron Lanier also appears in this particular documentary—along with two dozen other experts, many of them executives who formerly held high-ranking positions at social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

I full well realize the irony in asking you to watch a YouTube video on social media addiction (given the platform’s at-times-scarily accurate recommendation engine, algorithmically designed to keep you viewing long past your bedtime), but I would urge you to set aside 93 minutes and 42 seconds of your time, and watch this documentary. It is eye-opening, it is disturbing, and it is a wake-up call.

One shocking thing I learned from this documentary is that even the people who designed, created, and tweaked the algorithms that glue us to our cellphones, are addicted to social media and its attendant ills (for example, a more divisive society and increasingly polarized politics).

We are participating in an experiment that is slowly but surely rewiring our brains in ways that we are only now starting to comprehend. Particularly disturbing is the impact that social media algorithms are having on children and teenagers, something once again brought to light by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen last week in her testimony to the U.S. Senate.

According to the video description on YouTube, The Social Dilemma was only supposed to be on YouTube until September 30th, 2021, but it’s still up as of today. I don’t know how long it will be available on YouTube, so if you don’t subscribe to Netflix, please don’t delay in watching this.

As I said up top, while I might be proud of my emancipation from Facebook, I have landed up spending more time—a lot more time—on other social media, notably Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, Clubhouse, and Discord. The pandemic (and its lockdowns and social distancing requirements) have only exacerbated the problem over the past 20 months. And I suspect that I am not alone in this.

I might be free of Facebook (which I consider the most egregious culprit), but I am still addicted to social media.

Are you?

Here’s a resource to help you learn more: The Center for Humane Technology.

MetaWhat? The Metaverse Show on Clubhouse

Metaverse chat rooms on the social audio app Clubhouse have come and gone—there was a Virtual Worlds club which used to host regular rooms, but like many Clubhouse clubs, it kind of ran out of steam—but there’s a new club, called the MetaWhat? Show. (By the way, you no longer need to wait for an invitation to use Clubhouse; it’s now open to the general public, with both iOS and Android apps.)

Here’s the description of the MetaWhat? Show club on Clubhouse:

MetaWhat? The Metaverse Show: Everything you wanted to know about the metaverse, but you didn’t have the metadata to go on or felt uncool to ask! From the perspectives of the uninitiated to the movices and the pros, we’ll explore all things metaverse and more.

The club already has over 500 members, and they’re meeting on Sundays at 3:00 p.m. CDT/4:00 p.m. EDT time. Here’s the Clubhouse link to this afternoon’s chat. (I’m not sure if these links will work on desktop, but they will on your mobile device!)

The chat show brings together a number of people, from various backgrounds and with varying levels of experience, to talk about anything and everything metaverse-related (including blockchain metaverses).

Even better, the Clubhouse chats are being archived as podcasts on Callin, which is also an app on both iOS and Android devices. Here’s a link to part 1 of episode 1 to get you started (you’ll need to download and install the free Callin app).

You can also follow MetaWhat? The Metaverse Show on Twitter. If you are at all interested in the metaverse, I highly recommend you follow them!

Clubhouse Conflict: Tempest in a Teacup, Or a Sign of More Serious Problems?

In an effort to combat my isolation and depression, which is being made worse by a third pandemic lockdown largely caused by my provincial government’s bumbling, bungling and inaction, I often turn to Clubhouse for company. I like to have it nearby, running on my cellphone, and I often listen to it throughout my workday.

I consider Clubhouse a much more accessible version of talk radio, one where I can easily join in, if I feel I have something to contribute to the conversation. Listening makes me less lonely, and less likely to ruminate about my situation. Since I started in mid-February, listening to Clubhouse has very quickly become a part of my daily routine.

But frankly, Clubhouse is not a very happy place lately. The stresses and strains of unprecedented growth have all too readily shown the weaknesses of the platform.

Today, the users are in a collective uproar, with room after room after room of complaints about recent updates to the platform, which (among other things) led to the loss of keyword searching in personal bios. People are upset because they have spent time and energy build profiles which are no longer searchable, and therefore, like-minded users can no longer find each other as easily.

Clubhouse is not a happy place today
(Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)

More and more, it feels as if the Clubhouse community is getting smaller and more insular, despite the recent rollout to Android users (many of whom are also complaining, lacking features such as the ability to add Twitter and Instagram links to their bios). The overall mood among the remaining and (seemingly) dwindling number of Clubhouse users is angry, divisive, quarrelsome, and frankly somewhat off-putting to newcomers. And it’s unclear what is the best way to fix these problems.

Lightning may have struck once, with Clubhouse’s initial buzz and sizzle, but I think that it is unlikely to strike in the same place a second time. Clubhouse is now facing stiff, strong competition from platforms with much larger social graphs off of which they can leverage, such as Twitter, Facebook, and even Discord. Clubhouse is now far from the only game in town, and their front-runner advantage dwindles by the day.

And it’s not just single users that are giving up and leaving Clubhouse. Whole communities have moved away from Clubhouse, seeking greener pastures. For example, some Black users have left Clubhouse for the crowdfunded, Black-owned Fanbase, feeling more at home there. I expect this trend to continue as competitor social audio platforms proliferate, and create submarkets within the marketplace.

And there still seems to be a great deal of upset about the awarding of the sixty finalists in Clubhouse’s recent Creator First program. Worse, many content creators feel that their hard work is not being acknowledged or rewarded with larger numbers of followers due to recent changes to the discoverability algorithms, so why bother?

In short, Clubhouse, my bulwark against isolation and depression, is springing leaks, It will be interesting to see how Clubhouse rises to the new challenges it faces. Is this just a tempest in a teacup, or a sign of more serious problems that will spell the end of Clubhouse? Was it all just a passing fad, fed by the pandemic?

Pandemic Diary, May 11th, 2021: Bored Bored BORED

Ladies and gentlemen, I am bored.

You know you’re bored when you take a Second Life avatar and park her in front of the lucky boards at Scandalize and just sit there, waiting for your letter to show up:

I mean, yes, it is minimally productive in that I am adding to that particular alt’s inventory, but I already endlessly shop for fabulous freebies for all my alts, so it’s not like they’re going to be running around the grid naked. (Although there are sims where that is perfectly acceptable. This is Second Life; you do you, boo.)

Lately I have been hanging out at three different (virtual) places in much the same way as bored, pre-pandemic teenagers used to hang out in front of my local Seven-Eleven convenience store:

  • Second Life (my old reliable standby);
  • Clubhouse (the hot new drop-in audio app); and
  • Twitter (another old reliable standby).

I’m not sure what I think I am going to find by constantly going online and checking these three places. I have the attention span of a gerbil on benzedrine; I pop in and out of rooms on Clubhouse with alarming alacrity lately, barely listening to a sentence or two before I decide to bail and move on to the next room. What am I searching for? God knows. But I am certainly not finding it lately.

I have no shortage of practical tasks that need doing: a kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom that need cleaning; pharmacy receipts to enter into my insurance portal; a workbook with cognitive behavioural therapy exercises to complete (one of the many tools in my ever-expanding arsenal to combat my chronic clinical depression).

Speaking of depression, yes, I am going to lose my psychiatrist, who is leaving Winnipeg to accept a position in British Columbia. I am happy for her, but I am going to miss her, and it will be extremely difficult to find a new psychiatrist to take me on as a patient. She promises to try and find me somebody, but she is going to have to call in all her favours, and use every bit of her persuasion. The pandemic has caused a tsunami of mental health issues in Manitoba, as it has globally, which has led to a shortage of professionals to diagnose and treat people who are struggling and suffering, It is the worst possible time to lose a psychiatrist. It wasn’t good before, but now the situation is even worse. If all else fails, I will have to rely on my family doctor for treatment, a prospect neither of us particularly relishes.

I am restless. I putter around the apartment, go sit out on the patio next to the woods behind my apartment, and watch the budding trees and listen to the birds, but then I get restless again and park myself in front of my computer, reload Second Life for the umpteenth time, restyle an avatar for the umpteenth time. Then I log off, and go lie on the sofa with my trusty iPhone, scrolling through my hallway on Clubhouse to find an interesting room. Sometimes I even listen to a room on Clubhouse while scrolling through my Twitter feed!

People, I am stuck in a well-worn rut. I am bored, bored, BORED.

Photo by Magnet.me on Unsplash

And yes, I know that I could put on my Valve Index VR headset, crank up Tilt Brush or load NeosVR, and get creative, but I don’t feel creative.

God, I wish this pandemic were over already.

UPDATE 9:13 p.m.: Well, I did land this wonderful outfit from one of the lucky boards at Scandalize, however, while listening to a Clubhouse room about unconditional love and gratitude which is lifting my spirits this evening:

White Spessiha outfit from Scandalize

So, I might be bored, but I can still find some peace, grace, beauty, and solace in the middle of a pandemic, in my rather unconventional virtual spaces and my rather quirky Ryan Schultz ways! May you also find your moments during this pandemic.