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.

UPDATED! We Met in Virtual Reality: A New, Feature-Length Documentary Filmed in VRChat During the Pandemic Lockdown

A still from Joe Hunting’s new documentary (image source)

Joe Hunting is a documentary filmmaker whose passion is to create movies in and about VRChat (I wrote about him in August of 2019 when he released his mini-documentary A Wider Screen). He is now working on a new project, a feature documentary called We Met in Virtual Reality.

Here’s an overview of the film, from his IndieGogo page:

We Met in Virtual Reality is an enchanting portrait of social Virtual Reality (VR) app VRChat, composed of intimate and hilarious moments inside global VR communities. The film presents an emotive impression on this new virtual landscape through a poetic collage of stories, exploring how VR is affecting the way we socialise, work, love and express ourselves; told authentically by the users of VRChat through a warm heartfelt lens. 

The overall narrative is made up of three distinct protagonists each presenting unique stories of discovering a romantic relationship through VRChat, and using VR to cope with poor mental health. These core narratives flow between each other in a linear fashion through Winter 2020 to Summer 2021, delivering a compelling journey amidst the more observational moments in other VR communities.

Filmed entirely inside VRChat using cinematic virtual cameras during the Covid lockdown crisis, this film captures a precious time in an underground cultural movement that will soon shape the world we live in; additionally highlighting contemporary subjects such as of coping with poor mental health, modern forms of sign language, non-binary gender expression and finding love beyond physical interaction. Everyone appearing in the film will be addressed by their virtual usernames without any real life imagery, immersing audiences into a new cinematic documentary experience.

The trailer for Joe’s documentary dropped yesterday on YouTube, and I must say, it’s looking really good!

Joe is running a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGogo to cover the costs of the post-production work on his documentary before it is released. If the trailer piqued your interest (as it did mine), then why not throw a donation Joe’s way? I’m sure he would appreciate it! I donated £15 to the project, just for the thrill of seeing my name in the thank-you credits… 😉

Joe explains the need for funding:

I have a beautiful rough cut of We Met in Virtual Reality already finished, but it is nothing without your support to get it polished and released! I am raising £10,000 to cover all the music licensing, which is necessary for the films release. Any additional funds will go towards subtitling and captioning, which is an absolute necessity as well, plus submission fees for film festivals eg. Sundance, SXSW, Hot Docs, Tribeca, Sheffield Doc Fest… and LGBTQ+, deaf and hard of hearing focused festivals. These festival screenings will help tremendously is securing the film on accessible streaming platforms for public release in the fall of 2022.

Your contribution can get you a number of special perks, including getting your name and VRChat avatar in the credits, tickets to exclusive screenings and producer credits! If I do not reach my goal, any funds received will still be put towards what is mentioned above, and I will seek further investment elsewhere.

I am quite looking forward to watching this full-length feature documentary when it is released. You can watch Joe’s earlier work, A Wider Screen, below:

UPDATE Oct. 10th, 2021: Joe Hunting sent me the following thank-you card for my donation, featuring an image from the documentary:

A Wider Screen: A Mini-Documentary About VRChat

I was looking for something to watch this evening, so I did a search for “social VR” in YouTube and stumbled across A Wider Screen, a charming, quirky mini-documentary (just 13 minutes long) by Joe Hunting (a.k.a. Little Poe in VRChat). Joe describes his documentary as follows:

A Wider Screen is a short documentary film (approx. 15 minutes) about how virtual reality (VR) is affecting people’s social lives for the better. 70% of the film is shot within VRChat, a VR social platform that allows users to create their own worlds and avatars.

Among the people we meet in Joe’s documentary is Noah Robinson, whom I have profiled on this blog before.

Here is A Wider Screen on YouTube (or, if you prefer, you can watch it on Vimeo here):

The two Shiba Inu dog avatars on the video thumbnail are Floppy and Pluto, two men who are exploring what it means to have a relationship in VRChat.

Little Poe was also a guest on the long-running talk VRChat talk show Endgame (which I have also written about before):

The Drax Files #182: Our Digital Selves Documentary

On Friday I did something I had never done before—I participated in the taping of Draxtor Despres (a.k. Bernhard Drax in real life)’s regular podcast/broadcast The Drax Files.

I saw Drax posting a link to the private Sansar experience where he records his show on his Slack channel, and I decided to come and crash the party! Drax has asked me several times in the past to take part in his broadcast, but I never could do it before today, because I am at work when he records. On Friday, I was on holidays from my job so I could take part.

Drax Files 1 18 May 2018.png

Among the many people present at Drax’s taping of the episode was the anthropologist Dr. Tom Boellstorff, who conducted the research project that Drax was documenting, as well as the following people who were profiled in the documentary:

  • Cody Lascala
  • Shyla the Super Gecko
  • Jadyn Firehawk
  • iSkye Silverweb
  • Solas  NaGealai
  • Alumnia