What I’m reading

I first mentioned Jaron Lanier about six weeks ago, mid-way through my self-imposed month-long social media fast/cleanse.

Ten Arguments is his most recent book. Each book is fundamentally tech-related–he’s a computer scientist and digital philosopher, of sorts, who is likely best known for his work and advancements in the field of VR (in fact, he coined the very term “virtual reality”)–but this book in particular offers detailed insight into how data mining and ad-driven social media work.

Such social media make a ton of money selling extremely detailed, advanced data on individuals (leading to vast numbers of users) based on how the users behave while using their site and also when they’re just online. Their algorithms are intentionally designed to be addictive to keep people coming back again and again, and tend to lead to users to seeing more negative content because people react (read: engage with the platform) faster to negative content than positive content. (The book cites all the requisite proof you could expect, so I’ll not get into that here.)

In short, social media addicts its users, exposes them to more content that will elicit a negative response, and makes fortunes from doing so.

As someone who cares about technology and how it is supposed to help and advance humanity, Lanier’s encouraging people to quit social media for their own good–for the world’s good–is understandable.

It should be mentioned that he’s not against the people who use social media, nor even necessarily against the people who work at such companies, he’s just against what this particular technology has become and is doing to people, rather than what good it could/should be used for.

I was finally able to get ahold of the book, and while I’m only about a quarter of the way through it, I’m finding his writing quick and effective at relaying complex ideas in basic terms. It’s clearly meant to be easily understood (and hopefully heeded) by the masses.

If you’ve ever thought about quitting social media, or are even curious about peeking at the proverbial man behind the curtain making it all run, I can’t recommend Ten Arguments highly enough.

Full disclosure: I remain on the social media platform Mastodon, but it’s genuinely not among the type of social media Lanier’s talking about. Mastodon is made purely to connect people, which in some of Lanier’s talks he says should really be the point of social media: Not making a few people obscenely wealthy by manipulating users and selling information about them, but rather, simply connecting people who wish to be connected.
Mastodon isn’t driven by commerce. Without ads, it doesn’t need to mine data of its users or modify their behaviour, which is the bread and butter of the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.