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The End of the Social Era Can’t Come Soon Enough

29 November 2017

From Vanity Fair:

Many people imagine 19th-century antebellum America as a frontier fantasia: men with handlebar mustaches sitting in dusty saloons, kicking back moonshine whiskey, as a piano player picks out tunes in the background. In reality, though, life was a little more sordid: Americans spent their time after work in fully legal heroin dens; in 1885, opium and cocaine were even given to children to help with teething. “Cocaine Toothache Drops,” which were marketed as presenting an “instantaneous cure” were sold for 15 cents a box. Today, in the midst of our opioid crisis, we hear about this past and wonder unequivocally, what the hell were they thinking?

I often wonder the same thing when I think about social media and its current domination of our society. Will a future generation look back in 10, 20, or maybe 100 years from now and wonder, mystifyingly, why a generation of humans believed in these platforms despite mounting evidence that they were tearing society apart—being used as terrorist recruitment tools, facilitating bullying, driving up anxiety, and undermining our elections—despite the obvious benefits and facilitations they provide? Indeed, some of the people who gave us these platforms are already beginning to wonder if this is the case. Last month, I wrote a piece detailing how some early Facebook employees now feel about the monster they have created. As one early Facebook employee told me, “I lay awake at night thinking about all the things we built in the early days and what we could have done to avoid the product being used this way.”

After the piece published, I expected to receive angry e-mails and text messages from current or former Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram employees. Instead, my inbox was flooded with former (and even current!) employees of these social networks, who confided that they felt the same way. Some even mentioned they had abandoned the platforms themselves. The people who reached out ranged in pay grade from engineers to C-suite executives. Some venture capitalists who once funded the companies, or their competitors, have told me that they no longer use them—or do so sparingly.

. . . .

[T]he social-media boom, powered by the growth of mobile computing, is over. “Whether the tech industry can move beyond mining our social anxieties to sell ads, or feeding our anger to increase engagement, may require renegotiating a new relationship between the Bay Area and the rest of the country.”

. . . .

I deleted Instagram, Facebook, and Snap from my phone. I now log onto Facebook once a month, if that (and it’s more for a drive-by look to make sure no one has messaged me on there, rather than to like a post or comment on a picture). I haven’t logged into Snap in a year or more. I went from sharing a picture on Instagram three times a day, to now doing so three times a year. While I still use Twitter sparingly for professional purposes, I delete the app from my phone on weekends because looking at it either makes me sad, angry, or anxious.

Link to the rest at Vanity Fair

Social Media

14 Comments to “The End of the Social Era Can’t Come Soon Enough”

  1. Richard Hershberger

    Antebellum: I don’t think that word means what this guy thinks it means.

    • Since “antebellum” isn’t capitalized, perhaps the writer has in mind a war other than the Civil War, one later than 1885–say, the Spanish-American War.

      Then again, it’s more likely that the writer isn’t too familiar with nineteenth-century American history or terms.

      • Richard Hershberger

        There is always another war, so “antebellum” can refer to literally any time in history, making the word meaningless. It is more likely that he doesn’t know what “ante-” means.

        • Nick Bilton, the author of this piece, used ‘antebellum’ in the phrase ’19th-century antebellum America’. That has a clear, accepted meaning: America before the Civil War. Then he goes on to talk about conditions in 1885 in the same paragraph. Huh? Say what?

          This kid is too ignorant to listen to. It ain’t what he don’t know. It’s what he knows that just ain’t so.

          I got socks older than this kid. And those socks never made fools of themselves in a public forum.

          Richard Hershberger, Thanks for pointing this out.

          • I think some of my socks may be capable of making fools of themselves in public fora. I try not to tell them my passwords though and limit their access to technology just to be sure.

        • Guess we are all living in the postbellum world.

  2. “undermining our elections”… yeah, no. Really, no. Stop passing along this fiction.

    If you want to turn it of, turn it off. I use FB to keep in touch with physically distant relatives. I’ve mostly stopped posting anything political because of my internet mantra.


    Instagram? Twitter? Nah. I think I started an account on Instagram because I thought maybe someday I might want to do something on it. And Twitter I used to use to follow the scanner in Pokemon to get the rare Pokemon in my neighborhood.

    It’s pretty easy not to take part in these services. But they also do a lot of good, especially during natural disasters. Although I do try to stay away from teh stupid and ignore people who participate.

  3. Free speech is a bitch, isn’t it.

    I’m more worried about our new masters restricting free speech than most things people say, and yes, that includes Illinois Nazis and Russians.

  4. “Nobody Goes There Anymore, It’s Too Crowded.”

    — Yogi Berra (and others)

  5. Will a future generation look back in 10, 20, or maybe 100 years from now and wonder, mystifyingly, why a generation of humans believed in these platforms despite mounting evidence that they were tearing society apart

    Those who really are tangled up in social media think everyone is like them.

  6. Just Another Curmudgeon

    I can’t remember the last time i thought something from Vanity Fair was important or insightful. This article has not changed my recollection.

  7. This article is music to my ears! Bring back the carrier pigeon!

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