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.

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.

Editorial: The Competition for Social Audio Is Getting Interesting

Twitter versus Clubhouse: who will win the battle for social audio?

I’ve written twice this week about Clubhouse (here and here), and I remain endlessly fascinated about social audio apps in general, and the two leading apps, Twitter Spaces and Clubhouse, in particular. It would appear that the competition between Twitter and Clubhouse is beginning to heat up, with Twitter working aggressively to add users and features while Clubhouse seems to be experiencing some growing pains. While Clubhouse has the early lead, Twitter is making slow but steady progress, particularly in support for Android users.

Late this afternoon, I listened to a Twitter Spaces room where the future of Twitter was discussed at length, and it is clear that the new push is towards attracting content creators and providing ways to effectively monetize the platform for them. Twitter product lead Kayvon Beykpour tweeted today about just how far Twitter Spaces has come in only four months:

Anyone of Twitter with more than 600 followers can now host their own Twitter Spaces room, which anybody on Twitter can listen to and join in, without any limit on how many people can be in the room (Clubhouse rooms are capped at 5,000 people). Also, Twtter Spaces supports both iOS and Android devices, although Clubhouse is expected to roll out Android support sometime in the next month.

Also, Clubhouse does not have a direct message ability, relying instead on people putting Instagram and Twitter links in their bios so that people can contact each other. Of course, Twitter already has direct messaging built into the platform (although celebrities and other people can choose to turn that feature off).

All this means is that social audio is still anybody’s game to win. While Twitter Spaces is lagging behind Clubhouse in terms of overall features, Twitter has something that Clubhouse does not: a much larger potential audience (192 million users). In other words, once Kayvon and his team work out some of the bugs and add more features, they could potentially have a hit on their hands. And Facebook, with 2.8 billion user accounts and deep pockets full of profits from advertising, has the potential to come in and steamroller over both Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces.

(By the way, the Twitter Spaces room I was in crashed abruptly…it would appear that there are still quite a few bugs to iron out!)

Stay tuned; things are about to get really interesting!

UPDATED! Comparing Clubhouse with Twitter Spaces: A Chart Comparing the Features of the Two Leading Drop-In Audio Chat Social Apps for Mobile Devices

Clubhouse (photo by Erin Kwon on Unsplash)
Twitter Spaces (source)

I don’t know what lucky star I was born under, but as of very early this morning, Thursday, March 4th, 2021, I am now part of not one but two beta tests of competing drop-in audio chat apps: Clubhouse (which I have been on for a little over a week), and the newer Twitter Spaces, which I was invited to join today, after participating in my first-ever Twitter Spaces group chat that lasted into the wee hours of this morning!

This morning, I tried out my new abilities, setting up Twitter Spaces chatrooms to talk with various people one-on-one, like Michael Zhang, Kent Bye, Will Burns and Andy Fidel. With those chats, and last night’s group chat, under my belt, I now feel confident enough to compile a comparison chart between the two platforms.

Please note that the situation is evolving rapidly (for example, the press have reported that Twitter Spaces works for Android, but in trying to connect with an Android user, she reported that she received a message that it’s not available yet for Android). So this chart will age rapidly, and I will NOT be keeping it up to date; consider it just a current snapshot of the race between the two social audio companies! (And yes, you can bet your bottom dollar that Facebook is feverishly working on a competing drop-in audio chat app to dominate the nascent marketplace*.)

(I apologize for the somewhat messy dimensions of this table; I was unable to find an easy way to make the columns all the same size! I need to brush up on my HTML/CSS.)

Features/DetailsCLUBHOUSETWITTER SPACES
CompanyAlpha Exploration Company, founded in April 2020 by Rohan Seth and Paul Davison, funded by venture capitalist Andreessen HorowitzTwitter, founded by by Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams in March 2006
Current Number of Users10 million users (and growing quickly!)Unknown number of users since its private beta launch in late December 2020, mostly iOS (Twitter itself has 330 million users)
Supported Mobile DevicesiOS onlyiOS only; the press has already reported that Android support has just launched, but I have had a least one report of an Android user who could not get in, and one report of someone who could, so…
Current Growth ModelInvite only (You have to have someone text you an invitation)Invite only (Twitter seems to be selecting the longest-standing accounts first)
Number of Rooms You Can CreateAs many as you like (three kinds: open, public/followers only, or closed/invite only)It appears to be just one, reusable room linked to your Twitter profile (you can retitle the room every time you spin it up, though)
Number of Clubs (Recurring Rooms) You Can CreateYou need to ask Clubhouse to set up a club for you, but soon they plan to launch the ability for you to create your own clubs There does not appear to be a regularly-scheduled room or club feature yet (but it’s early days!)
Number of People You Can Invite into a RoomSeems to have no upper limit (the Elon Musk interview room had over 6,000 people)UPDATE: It would appear you can invite as many Twitter users and lists of users as you like (thanks, Navah!). You can also send out a general invitation tweet to your Twitter feed, or generate a special link to post to places like Discord (I tested both and they do indeed work).
EmojisEncouraged in user profiles and searchable, but when you are in a room, and not speaking, you are limited to clicking your microphone button repeatedly (similar to clapping), or changing your user icon and PTR (Pull To Refresh) the screen.Yes (but the selection is limited to only 5 emojis). Of course, you can also use emojis in your Twitter profiles and tweets!
Direct MessagingNo (you must use Instagram or Twitter to send direct messages, although you could create a private room for just the two of you to chat)Yes, built-in from the start
CostThe platform is free to all users and doesn’t yet offer any kind of premium plan or method of charging users, nor is it ad-supported. They plan to monetize by adding ways for users to pay other users, which will provide an opportunity for Clubhouse to take a cut for its services.Free (Twitter makes its money through advertising and data licensing)

And if you want to ping me on either Clubhouse or Twitter, my handle on both is the same: @quiplash. Quiplash is short for “quipster whiplash”, because I am very well known for my snappy comebacks 😉 (and no, I am not named after the Quiplash game). Hit me up if you want to experience Twitter Spaces and perhaps we can schedule a group discussion, and I’d like to extend the same invitation for Clubhouse (if you can get an invite; I might be able to you out there, too, if you join my Patreon).

Feel free to give me a shout! (photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash)

UPDATE 4:13 p.m.: Well, I have been testing out Twitter Spaces with small groups of three to five people; thanks to Navah Berg and my European social VR blogger counterpart Niclas Johansson, and to Thomas for helping me test! (I’m sorry but given the problems I report below, I was unable to add Thomas as a friend, and I didn’t catch his last name.)

Unfortunately, this afternoon, the Twitter Spaces app performed horribly, muting my microphone at one point and forcing me to use the very limited set of 5 emojis to express myself (like some sad mime!), and at another point, slowing down to the point that it took me several painful minutes to search for a username, waiting 5-10 seconds for each and every key press to register, and then, not once but twice in a row, actually crashing me out of the app and causing my iPhone to lock up completely! I haven’t had that happen in a while… So, after four tries, I gave up.

So I would very strongly recommend that you wait a day or two before trying Twitter Spaces, even if you have been invited to participate as a host today. It seems to be buckling under the load, and in my opinion, it’s just not ready for prime time. Very buggy, very beta. (Sorry, Twitter!)

Navah, who says she had been on Spaces for a couple of weeks now and that she prefers Twitter Spaces to Clubhouse, told us that her pervious days’ performance was much better, and she suggested that all these serious problems are happening to us today because Twitter launched Spaces for Android users today, and they are getting hammered with Android device traffic (which makes sense to me).

UPDATE 8:31 p.m.: Well, things are looking up! Navah is hosting a Twitter Space this evening with approximately 55 people present, with only occasional audio issues. One of the features I do quite like about Twitter Spaces is the ability for someone either (host or speaker) to share a tweet with everybody in the room. Somebody posted a copy of my tweet of this blogpost to tonight’s meeting!

UPDATE 8:43 p.m.: Aaaand the room crashed again! Back to the drawing board, Twitter…

*UPDATE March 6th, 2021: Well, surprise, surprise… word has leaked out that Facebook is working on adding audio chat rooms to Instagram:

Here’s a link to the tweet and resulting comment thread if you’re interested.