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, October 3rd, 2021: Different Shades of Blue

Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

Tell by the way you hang your head
The way you cast your eyes and things you haven’t said
You’ve gathered past ten years written on your face
Your whole damn life’s been one big race
Everybody goes there whether they want to or not
Everybody starts to hold on to what they got
And start to settle in with the long haul
Real life baby, oh, you can’t have it all

When you got nothing left to lose
Might sound good, but I’m not sure that’s true
You carry the pain around and that’s what sees you through
The different shades of blue

—Joe Bonamassa, Different Shades of Blue

Depression is a funny thing (not literally, of course; perhaps it would be more accurate to say that depression is a strange thing). It can go away or come back, settle in for the long haul and then lift unexpectedly, at a moment’s notice. I have become accustomed to my moods, sometimes only noticing them when remarked upon by friends, family, and coworkers.

I am often feeling different shades of blue, cranky and exhausted, worn out by twenty months of pandemic and a very busy September at my university. I often find myself lying on the sofa, with the lights turned off, listening to one or another relaxing music livestream on YouTube. I seem to be spending a lot of time on YouTube lately for some reason, rabidly consuming content which seems to fall into four main categories:

Here’s an example of the kind of video I like to put on when I am feeling stressed and depressed, and I need to chill. It’s just a livestream of a tropical beach somewhere, where the waves crashing onto the shore. Sometimes I even leave it on and go to sleep! I find the sound of the waves so soothing.

One livestream video channel, which I find I like to listen to while lying on the sofa in the darkness, is deceptively simple but very soothing: 1920s-1940s oldies music playing muffled (as if it were in another room), with the sound of crickets chirping. Metro reports:

A wave of videos have emerged on YouTube since the pandemic began. Creators are putting together playlists of muffled oldies music (from the 1920s-40s) with sound effects of rain, thunder, and log fires over the top to create the illusion of being inside a cozy room with distant background music…

At a time when things life feels far less certain and predictable, it makes sense that people are turning to comforting sounds to help them unwind or relax while getting on with other tasks.

Creator of YouTube channel Nemo’s Dreamscapes, which currently has over 103k subscribers, says they’ve noticed these kinds of videos have existed for a few years now, but it’s only more recently they’ve become a ‘trend’.

Here’s an example from Nemo’s Dreamscapes:

If you are also feeling different shades of blue, I hope that you can find a bit of serenity with my YouTube picks! I find it also helps to take a firm break from my newsfeed and my social media (I tend to doomscroll the COVID-19 news until I am thoroughly angry, anxious, and demoralized!).

Stay safe and stay healthy!


P.S. Did you know that Ryan’s 15-minute three-cheese lasanga is clinically proven to cure depression? 😉 (Hey, it’s gotta be better for you than ivermectin!) Here’s the recipe. All the fabulous serotonin-boosting lasagna taste, in just fifteen minutes!!!

A Quick Guide to the VRChat Communities on Discord, Twitch, YouTube, and Other Social Media (Plus a Couple of Directories of VRChat Maps/Worlds!)

After writing up my recent blogpost about the Second Life blogging and vlogging community, I decided to investigate what social media exists around another popular social VR platform/virtual world, VRChat, which I have been writing about for four years now on this blog.

Blogs

To my surprise, there’s very little in the way of blogging about VRChat; my Google searches consistently pulled up only two blogs which discuss VRChat regularly, my own blog, and Wagner James Au’s venerable blog New World Notes, which has branched out from its original coverage of Second Life to write about other virtual worlds (here’s a link to all of my VRChat posts, and a link to all of Wagner’s).

Discords

As for Discords, there are any number of popular Discord communities:

There are also the following Discord servers, which have a VRChat section or channel:

Directories of VRChat Worlds

As I have written about before, it can be difficult to find good directories of VRChat maps (i.e. worlds) to explore (other than the Worlds listing in the VRChat client itself).

There is a Japanese-language website called The World of VRChat, a website directory for VRChat worlds (if you turn on Google auto-translate in your Chrome web browser, it works well enough). I don’t know how up-to-date it is kept, however, and I have been unable to find any other website directories like this one.

The World of VRChat Website

Also, VRChat user CatRazor has created a very useful Discord server called VRChat Maps, where users can post their favourite maps to various channels. Check it out!

The VRChat Maps Discord server

If you know of any other VRChat map/world directories which exist outside the VRChat client, please drop a comment, thank you!


Of course, it was the Twitch and YouTube livestreamers who first brought attention to VRChat, so it only makes sense that the overwhelming majority of the social media out there about VRChat is on Twitch and YouTube.

Twitch

There’s a very active VRChat community on Twitch, with dozens of livestreamers. Your best bet is to go exploring, and see whose content appeals to you!

Just a small sample of the VRChat streamers on Twitch

YouTube

There are hundreds of people who regularly post videos about VRChat to YouTube. Feedspot maintains what it claims is an up-to-date list of the most popular VRChat YouTubers, but I have discovered that many of the people on this list haven’t posted VRChat videos to YouTube in many months, if not years (for example, Nagzz21 is listed, but he stopped posting videos about VRChat a year ago, citing the U.S. FTC’s COPPA legislation).

There are so many VRChat videos on YouTube that it is possible to create subcategories! For example, there are many YouTubers who focus on slice of life or “man in the street” interviews:

Here’s a couple of examples of YouTube videos from iListen and iamLucid, to give you an idea of the content you can expect in these interview videos:

Other VRChat videos tend to be edited or unedited recordings of shenanigans happening on the social VR platform. Your mileage may vary; some of funnier or others, but overall it comes down to your personal sense of humour. Here’s the results of a keyword search for “VRChat” on YouTube; dive in! If you’re looking for the most popular VRChat videos, start here (but be warned; some of these are not for the faint of heart!).


Do you know of any resources which should be listed here? If you know of a Discord server, a YouTube channel, or a Twitch channel, or some other social media that should be included in this blogpost? Then please feel free to leave a comment, thanks!

Savvy Promotion of Social VR and Virtual Worlds: Learning Valuable Marketing Lessons from Second Life

Meela Vanderbuilt’s YouTube page

I believe that Second Life, at the ripe old age of 18, is the perfect model of a mature, fully-evolved virtual world, which many newer entrants into the metaverse market would be very wise to study. And one of the things which those newer platforms would be smart to emulate, is the cultivation of a fervent and creative fanbase, who make and post content on all kinds of social media on the internet.

Second Life has a vibrant and thriving community of thousands and thousands of bloggers, vloggers, photographers, and machinima makers. Combine that with a flourishing ecosystem of programs and tools, such as the Black Dragon viewer, and you get a creative frenzy of activity which is, as yet, unmatched by any other social VR platform or virtual world (although VRChat comes close!). It’s essentially a self-sustaining marketing machine at this point, selling SL to a wide outside audience.

Second Life has even evolved its own particular brand of celebrity, such as those vloggers whose content attracts thousands of views on YouTube. You might call them virtual influencers! While I have been in (semi-) lockdown during the past year-and-a-half of the coronavirus pandemic, I have spent many an hour curled up on the sofa with my trusty iPad, watching some of these videos!

Some, like Cat Pink and Naria Panthar, tend to focus on Second Life shopping events and hunts. Others, like Meela Vanderbuilt and Carmen King, offer entertaining commentary as they go about their daily Second Lives. Here’s a recent example of a Carmen King video:

Now, Carmen King might not agree with your taste or sensibilities (I personally think she’s hilarious). But Carmen also vlogs regularly about her adventures in IMVU, the Sims 4, and games like Grand Theft Auto V, and I can tell you that this is exactly the sort of thing which intrigues her cross-over video audience, and tends to bring them into Second Life, to try it out for themselves. (I’m quite sure that any number of Sims players have ventured into SL because of Carmen’s videos.)

See the lesson here? If the newer social VR platforms were wise, they would create incentives (monetary or otherwise) to cultivate the users who create this sort of content. It’s the best and most natural form of advertising, that’s inspired by the fanbase of the platform, and driven by the enthusiasm of the creators themselves.

So my message. to all those companies which are toiling away, hoping to inherit the mantle of Second Life and become the next massive metaverse platform, is this: pay attention to your community, and encourage their creative pursuits! You might be pleasantly surprised at the spin-off benefits of cultivating and leveraging your fanbases. So go, get out there, and find your own Carmen King! 😉