The domination of the internet and much of social life by “social media” may be at an end. As reported by Slashdot:
According to a new study from marketing intelligence firm SimilarWeb, people are spending less time on social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. The company analyzed Android users’ daily time spent on these social networks from January to March 2016 with the same period in 2015, which included data from the U.S., UK, Germany, Spain, Australia, India, South Africa, Brazil and Spain.
This is welcome news. Social media at first served the role that early blogs did, namely finding useful news and links and passing them along. Over time, it degenerated to the same thing that all humans do: low-impact socialization in order to reward the ego with attention.
Back in the 1990s, the archetype of the social media era was born. The Tamagotchi is a Japanese electronic gadget that allows the user to feed, care for and nurture a “virtual” or computer simulation of a life-form. People became addicted to those too, and the fad mostly blew over within a few years.
Social media is an advanced form of the Tamagotchi. Users nurture their own virtual persona, an “avatar” or profile, which is based on what they want to show others of themselves, which is not the whole picture by any means. In fact, one succeeds by hiding the bad and over-stating the good, allowing nobodies in real life to become virtual reality stars.
Now that the crowd has become experienced with the trend, the bloom is off the rose. The inherent lottery-playing tendency of the carnies who make up most of our population loves a chance to succeed without first succeeding at the task itself, and the self-discipline necessary to do it (the inner war). As with all things human however once the group surges in and all relation to reality is lost, the victory is lost as well.
A sensible response to all of this would be for people to stop socializing through the internet and other proxies for reality, but that is unlikely to happen. Instead they will go on to more methods of attention whoring elsewhere. However, as the power users peel off from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Reddit and others, a signal of quality emerges.
In the near future, those who have anything going on will not be linking to their profiles, but demonstrating some actual ability. The masses will not do so because this is inaccessible to them, but in the meantime, social media will have declined as a signal of hipness much like modern society itself.
Not only is social media collapsing, but the internet itself has run into trouble. The rise of mass culture within it has doomed it to be a festival of spam, not so much in unwanted commercial messages, but the tendency of large corporations and governments to shape what we see and read by eliminating non-Narrative data:
“The problem is the dominance of one search engine, one big social network, one Twitter for microblogging…The temptation to grab control of the internet by the government or by a company is always going to be there,” he said. “They will wait until we’re sleeping, because if you’re a government or a company and you can control something, you’ll want it. You want to control your citizens or exploit customers. The temptation is huge. Yes, we can have things enshrined in law, but even then it won’t necessarily stop people.
The speaker, Tim Berners-Lee, took the complex hypertext systems of the seventies and adapted them to a file system format that worked over networks. This simplified version was more easily implemented and so took off on the newly-commercialized internet. But now, the tendency of people to herd and produce a few controlling powers has ruined that creation.
As it turns out with many areas of society, talented fools have destroyed a good thing by seizing control of it in a classic “Tragedy of the Commons” maneuver. Wanting more income, they became more controlling, and as a result the open frontier has become a walled garden much like television once was.
The Tamagotchi era ends with the same human story that plays out in everything else. A new possibility emerges, and then people mob it with their needs, which creates tyrants who serve those needs but at a price. Despite the many powers of the internet, it could not resist the inbuilt human tendency toward entropy.